Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review: The Green Hornet (2011)


In 1936 a truly interesting character debuted on the radio: a pulp masked vigilante known as “The Green Hornet”.  The character was described as being a descendant of The Lone Ranger (Although for legal reasons this can no longer be addressed) and was unique in that he and his partner Kato posed as criminals in order to have free reign in the underworld while at the same time working against it.  “Bringing it down from within,” so to speak.  It was a great success and spawned numerous comic books, movie serials, and eventually a 1960s TV show, actually a sequel featuring the characters’ nephew and son respectively, with one of the best theme songs in television history.
Then in 2007 someone in Hollywood thought it would be a brilliant idea to cast former fat guy and comedy actor Seth Rogen to play the title character.   What.
Funny; Not a Superhero; Not Fat Anymore
Warning: This review contains a good chunk of spoilers.
The story of how this film came to be is a long and depressing one so I’ll try to condense it.  As early as 1992 this film has been floating around with many big names attached at one point or another in various capacities including George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Jet Lee, Jake Gyllenhaal and many others.  At one point Kevin Smith was hired to write and direct, which only makes sense if you assume that a director who is a comic book fan automatically can make decent movie based on a comic book character (Smith himself later admitted that he’d much rather go see a superhero film than make one).  After many false starts and teases Rogen was finally cast and hired as co-writer.  Why him?  Because obviously when you’re making a movie based on a 1930s Mystery Man the obvious choice is someone who, at the time, was best known for making gay jokes with Paul Rudd and being a charming and lovably overweight, though now very much so in shape, funny guy.  In 2009 Michel Gondry was hired to direct.   Wait a second here; Michel Gondry directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the feel bad movie of 2004.  The same movie that taught me the lesson that love is a curse that will haunt you and force you to experience the same pain over and over again no matter how much you try to erase it.  Crap, this is going to suck…
Britt Reid (Rogen) is a spoiled rich kid who wastes his life partying and getting into the tabloids, much to the chagrin of his newspaper publisher father James Reid who venomously disapproves of his son’s lifestyle.  Upon the elder Reid’s death Britt along with James’ former mechanic Kato (Jay Chou), in one night, drunkenly defames a memorial, rescue a couple from muggers, and engage in a deadly police chase.  Hoped up on adrenaline and poor forethought the two decide to continue fighting crime while playing into the media’s depiction of them as criminals themselves.
Right off the bat the film makes some pretty drastic changes to the Green Hornet’s origin.  Originally Britt Reid, while a certainly a party guy, didn’t seem to be as decadent as he’s portrayed here.  In the original stories he was depicted as a bored playboy who would often travel the world and in fact met and befriended Kato while traveling abroad.  Plus his father wasn’t murdered but merely retired leaving his media empire in his son’s capable (Key word) hands.  In addition this movie clearly ignores that Reid was an intelligent journalist and more than capable fighter (Not in comparison to Kato, of course).  But these are technically nitpicking points that are merely the cries of an overzealous fan (The Green Hornet’s radio program, like myself, began in Detroit).  I must therefore look past my own prejudiced attitude and try to judge the film on its own merit rather than what they did or did not “get right” as far as its source material goes.
Yes, please!
The first thing to understand about this film is that it is a superhero satire.  Why they chose to make a satire about superheroes with a pulp comics/radio character doesn’t make any damn sense as he’s more of proto-superhero-Gah!  I’m doing it again!  Gotta judge it by its own merits, gotta judge it by its own merits!  *Ahem*  It is somewhat similar to Frank Miller’s film version of The Spirit as a parody of the genre, but where the Spirit was offensive and incomprehensible nonsense The Green Hornet is considerably more successful as a complete story.  As it stars a comedic actor it should come as little surprise that this is an action comedy; I have no reason to believe that Rogen is capable of being convincing action star.
As expected the Hornet’s car, the iconic Black Beauty, is awesome.  It may be bit overloaded but the visuals and the gadgets are great fun to watch and seeing all the cool features as the movie goes on is a hoot.  It does overstay its welcome by the end a little bit, but aside from that it makes the Batmobile look hokey and lame.  Jay Chou plays Kato, which is weird because as far as I know Chou isn’t a martial artist or a stuntman; he’s a pop star.  This is like casting Justin Timberlake as the title character in a Walker: Texas Ranger movie.  And yet somehow Chou is pretty much the only likable person in this film.  His Kato is down to Earth, sensitive and ultimately feels like a real person.  So, even though it’s due to different reasons, this version of Kato is similar to Bruce Lee’s in that you’ll probably come for the Green Hornet but you’ll be more interested in his partner throughout which is an appropriate feeling.  Plus his song during the credits is pretty catchy, even if I couldn’t understand a single word.
Do not ask him to fetch coffee
Did you notice how I said Chou was the only likeable character?  Most of the folks in this movie are just dull.  There are some interesting casting choices in this film, with Tom Wilkinson basically playing the opposite kind of character he played in Batman Begins.  And look at that: recent Oscar winner Christoph Waltz is here too, playing the extremely insecure villain Chudnofsky.  Great.  Both of them can talk about how embarrassed they were to have appeared in this film in the coming years.  The cast in the film doesn’t do anything for me, with the exception of Chou and Rogen.  Oh yes, Rogen does something for me alright: he confuses the hell out of me.  Ignoring that he plays Britt Reid as a completely useless and talentless fool throughout the film despite the character being capable in several fields in the source material Rogen’s Green Hornet suffers from a lack of likeability.  He’s so incompetent, so egomaniacal, and so self-centered all the way through to the end that it is impossible to get behind him at all.   I wasn’t cheering for the Green Hornet; I was yelling at the gangsters to beat the crap out of him to teach him a lesson.  I hate when the protagonist is someone I can’t stand because then I have to sit through and watch this guy I’d like to punch in the mouth not only avoid getting punched in the mouth but end up looking like a hero.  Now most of this can be attributed to the writer and director rather than the actor…except that we know that Rogen was one of the writers and apparently an executive producer!
In addition Rogen is just playing the same character he always plays.  He’s the guy from Pineapple Express except that instead of a drug dealer he pals around with a fighter who rescue him from his problems.  He’s the guy from Knocked Up except that the female lead won’t sleep with him, thus foiling an attempts to get her preggers.  He’s the same unlikeable asshole from Observe & Report except he’s saner and less physically capable.  This is not a character who should be fighting crime; this is a character who shouldn’t be trusted to take out the damn trash.  It doesn’t help that, when disused as the Green Hornet, he reads his lines as convincingly as he did during the porn scenes in Zack & Miri Make a Porno.
Oh yeah, Cameron Diaz is in this movie.  But since her character is only there to showcase just how incompetent Reid is (As he can’t even figure out how to fight crime he just makes his secretary unwittingly plan things out for him) and James Franco’s five minute cameo made as “Guy Chudnofsky Kills in the Beginning” made a more lasting impression I’m going to go ahead and say there’s no point in talking about her performance.
Another big issue I had with the film was the effects.  Now crazy-ass car chase scenes where doors turn into guns aren’t a problem for me, so anything regarding the Black Beauty scenes was mostly okay.  However everything else was downright ludicrous.  For example the vast majority of Kato’s fight scenes are CGI and effects heavy because he enters some sort “Pusdo-Bullet Time” sequences when he takes on villains.  Really?  What’s the point in having Kato in a movie if you’re going to fill everything with bad graphics and jerky movements?  It looks sooooo fake that I can barely tolerate it.  If Bruce Lee didn’t need such crap when he made that role famous in 1966 I don’t understand why you need it in 2011. 
A more minor complaint would be that apparently everyone in the Green Hornet version of Los Angles is a damn moron.  I’m not sure how the many journalism professionals working at Reid’s newspaper didn’t put two and two together and suspect that their boss might in fact be the Green Hornet, considering that a) the criminal’s first act was to steal the head of Jebediah Springfield Britt’s father’s statue, a man he famously didn’t get along with, b) Britt keeps pushing and pushing for more news coverage on the Green Hornet for seemingly no reason whatsoever, and c) Every time his secretary makes a statement on what the Green Hornet will do next in a meeting the criminal does the exact thing several hours later despite the fact that none of them seem to hold her on high regard as far as the criminology goes.  Plus the ending of the film has Britt getting shot by the cops in the shoulder and being too afraid to go to the hospital for fear of being discovered and thus engages the outrageous plan of the masked Kato shooting him at a press conference with “regards from the Green Hornet.”  The problem?  THE POLICE WILL FIGURE IT OUT!  If you get shot and go the hospital the police are called to investigate no matter what!  You don’t think that’ll be able to match up the bullet?  “Huh, that’s strange.  The bullet we pulled out millionaire Britt Reid matches up exactly with guns we supply our SWAT teams.  The very same SWAT team who, not two days ago, were in a shootout with the Green Hornet at Britt Reid’s office and now that I think about it the Hornet clearly has millions of dollars at his disposal in order to afford all those wonderful toys.  It must be a coincidence, humpty dumpty doo!”  Even if the cops are too slow to make the connection I’m sure a good doctor can tell the difference between a fresh bullet wound and a bullet wound from several hours beforehand.  No sequel for this movie because there’s no way in hell Reid didn’t go to prison after the credits rolled!
EXPLOSION!!!
This movie sucks.  It’s not even all that action filled as there’s long stretches of Britt and Kato just talking to each other about nothing important.  It lacks a lead character that is likable, heroic or capable, the cast as a whole don’t have any real impressionable performances, the plot gets progressively dumber, and the humor is juvenile.  Add to the fact that it ignores a lot of Green Hornet lore and instead goes for the easy and overused joke about Kato being the true force behind the Hornet’s operation kills any enjoyment I would have had as a fan of the original radio show.  I told myself I’d fail the movie if it didn’t feature the theme song from the TV show and luckily it did; very briefly as if to taunt me but there nonetheless.  This far and away not the worst movie out there and you may enjoy it if you want to watch a dopey comedy with Seth Rogen making typical Seth Rogen jokes.  There are worst superhero movies floating around, no doubt but if you feel like checking this one I suggest you instead rent any other of Rogen’s movies and a copy of Mystery Men.  Overall that’s a more entertainment evening.
I give The Green Hornet 2 Freaky Looking Hornets out of 5

Pros
-Jay Chou is petty alright as Kato
-The Black Beauty is sweet
Cons
-Unlikable protagonist
-Plot that makes little sense
-The cast was boring (Except James Franco who isn’t even credited)
-Only has a token relation to the source material
-It’s a Seth Rogen comedy rather than a superhero film

2 comments:

  1. You know, I know that a movie critic is trustworthy when they tend to give movies scores about .5 or 1 point lower than I do. I suppose it's a qualification that you're more *critical*, and I'll be sure that when you actually like something that I should catch it.

    That said, the only thin that sets Seth Rogan in this movie apart from anything else he's done is that he's less likable. I hope they make a prequel that is just about James Franco's rise to power as a wisecracking mid level meth lord. Maybe everyone he insults can get an inferiority complex that later causes them to become a super villian.

    That would be fun.

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