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The Green Hornet (2011)

January 14, 2011

written by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg (based on characters created by George W. Trendle & Fran Striker 
produced by: Neal H. Moritz
directed by: Michel Gondry
rated PG-13 (for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content)
110 min.
U.S. release date: January 14, 2011

There are two reasons to see “The Green Hornet”, the latest incarnation of a superhero who’s been around in a variety of forms (radio, TV, comic books) for decades. Those two reasons are the stalwart sidekick, Kato, and his cool creation, Black Beauty, a sweet set of wheels loaded with gadgets. That’s pretty much all this movie has going for it. In a film where the title character is an intolerable and utterly forgettable boob, the fact that these two characters standout (yes, the car is a character) says quite a bit about the film’s misguided attempt to inject a different take on the superhero genre.

Self-entitled playboy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is the only son to wealthy mogul James Reid (a wasted Tom Wilkinson), owner of Los Angeles newspaper, The Daily Sentinel. Much to the dismay of his negligent father, Britt’s life is a mess. He doesn’t work, has everything done for him, and is a womanizing party animal. Of course, all this hides his misery that has developed over the years stemming from his painful childhood. Britt gets a wake-up call when his father suddenly dies from a bee sting. That’s right, bee sting. Wait, get it? Sting! Hornet?
GREEN HORNET Seth Rogen Jay Chou
Is Britt upset by his father’s death? Sure, but mainly because everyone offering condolences saw his father was a saint. We know better, as does Britt. Does this death offer a life reassessment for Britt? Does he look at his immature and juvenile ways and think of ways to change and live a life of impact, maybe make a difference? Not a chance. It’s just fuel for more booze, girls and crying. His only concern is finding out what happened to the person responsible for leaving a perfect cup of cappuccino to wake up to each morning. Where did that guy go?
He learns this skilled employee is Kato (a wonderful Jay Chou, “Curse of the Golden Flower”),
a loyal, polite and independent young man, who worked for his father and is also skilled in the ways of kicking butt.  Due to the fact that Britt has no friends, he latches himself onto Kato in an uncomfortably awkward and forced bromance. For the life of me, I could not comprehend why Kato stuck around. Maybe it was rewarding to finally have someone geek out over his gadget-making skills, but it’s sad that it has him hanging out with such a mean and condescending prick.
Britt is stoked after he and Kato inadvertently thwart a mugging and decides they should be crimefighters. But there’s a hook: they’ll pose as bad guys. So, the goal then is to be a threat to all scumbags while posing as the newest bad guys on the block….only they don’t really commit crimes, they just cause chaos and an exorbitant amount of property damage. All this activity reinvigorates Britt and why wouldn’t it? All he has to do is show up and utilize the costumes, gadgets, masks, and souped-up vehicles that Kato provides. He doesn’t even have to do that much fighting, since Kato continuously saves him (although, there’s never any real reason to save this “hero”), an overblown gag. Wait, who is the sidekick?
Riding this newfound high, Britt takes over running his father’s paper, disregarding any input the veteran editor-in-chief (a bewildered Edward James Olmos) and causes more damage. In a questionable tactic that screams egotist, he makes sure coverage of The Green Hornet is slapped on every front page. In keeping with the undesirable and offensive attitude Rogen and Goldberg has written our hero into, he verbally abuses new hire, Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz, in a smiling haze) as she interviews to be his secretary. She’s offended and insulted by him, but she takes the gig anyway because she studied criminal justice (that must be it!) , but more importantly because the movie needs the obligatory female hottie. But it all makes sense, because while Britt fumbles his way as The Green Hornet (Kato came up with the name, by the way), Kato has all the right moves and Lenore can offer some savvy knowledge. Look out criminals, the new criminals are here!
So, who should be scared of The Green Hornet out on the streets? What criminal lot should be shaking in their hideouts?  Rogen and Goldberg give us an oversensitive and insecure wanna-be crime lord named Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz, doing what he can with what’s been given), who feels threatened by the new green guy on the scene. The only good scene with Chudnofsky is his introduction with a rival crime lord (a gem of a cameo by do-it-all James Franco), it’s a fun scene that may leave viewers guessing if this antagonist is going to be a legitimate threat or a joke. Unfortunately, there’s no need to guess, as the movie progresses it becomes quite clear that Waltz is in full Oscar curse mode. This is a role that another Oscar-winner, Nicolas Cage turned down, due to “creative differences”, and I can’t believe I find myself preferring the option of seeing Cage embrace the role, in full-on Cage-y-ness. Considering the manic tone of this cartoon film, he would’ve been a welcome improvement.
Speaking of “creative differences”, this is a movie that has seen more changes than a toddler’s bottom. Over the past decade, movie news hounds were witness to a turnstile of talent spinning at a rapid rate. Seth Rogen wasn’t the first name to be dropped for the venerable hero (shocker, I know!), as we saw names like George Clooney and Jake Gyllenhaal being tossed into the green hat. Stephen Chow was once considered for Kato, a role made popular by Bruce Lee back in the day. At one point writer/director Kevin Smith was involved and then James Wan was rumored to direct, for a hot second. Then when Rogen was locked, I was optimistic, thinking he may take a serious pulp hero approach. The guy even dropped thirty pounds for the role, which led me to believe he wanted to take shed the physique fans have come to know the jovial actor for. Who knew that he would assimilate The Green Hornet into the tired comedic personas that litter his filmography?
The real death knell for “The Green Hornet” is a double-whammy doozy. First the original release date was changed from last summer to the cinematic graveyard known as January. Second, it was reported that the movie would be sentenced to the latest disease, the 3D treatment. These are two telling signs that indicate desperation and replace anticipation with apprehension for fans of the titular character.
GREEN HORNET Christoph Waltz

It’s not that the character is forgettable, it’s just that The Green Hornet winds up being a character that is near impossible to root for. I don’t fault Seth Rogen entirely, although seeing him play “Seth Rogen playing a not-so-super-superhero”, regurgitating the goofy gutteral giggles he’s become known for, was quite tiresome. No, much of the disappointment came from the treatment of the character and the uneven tone of the film.  But, part of the blame does fall to Rogen, who co-wrote this with frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg (they also co-wrote “Knocked Up” and “Pineapple Express”), who together make Britt Reid out to be a repulsive man-child. They thrust upon us a sad backstory about how this spoiled brat was neglected by his rich father, which is supposed to explain why he treats everyone awful.
Is the director also to blame for this debacle? It’s hard to say since there’s no trace of Michel Gondry here at all. Really. I could not tell at all that this was the same guy who directed “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Be Kind Rewind”.  I’m all for directors jumping genres, I even anticipate what they may bring, but this is void of Gondry’s abstract touch or visual creativity. And although the Kato Cam he employs when the character is in action is cool, which shows the sidekick’s ability to access danger immediately, it winds up feeling like something the Wachowski brothers or Brett Ratner could pull off.  At least the movie looks as slick as Kato’s gadgets, providing Gondry with a gleeful toy box indulgence that few filmmakers could deny.
Back to my “two reasons” from the start of this review. Yes, Chou as Kato, the real hero, was fantastic and all those Black Beauty vehicles were great, but there’s a stark difference between saving the day and saving a movie. These few highlights (including a stoned Edward Furlong) shouldn’t compel you to seek an IMAX near you and be subjected to more unnecessary 3D. I didn’t see it in 3D and well….yeah. Still, that won’t stop you from seeing what will be known as “the new Seth Rogen flick”, which will make good come opening weekend. Maybe you’ll fulfill your need to be bludgeoned with vapid slapstick or maybe you’ll be like me, wishing I could knock myself out with The Green Hornet’s gas gun mid-film.    
RATING: *1/2


8 Comments leave one →
  1. windi permalink
    January 14, 2011 8:54 am

    really? It’s that bad? *sniff* I was looking forward to going, but after that review, I’m not sure I want to be disappointed that badly.

    I mean, I knew it wasn’t going to be Oscar-worthy or anything, but the previews made it seem like there was going to be some serious behind all the blowing up and comedy. Or maybe I just wanted to believe that because it looked fun, but I don’t like vapid films. Sigh.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      January 14, 2011 9:31 am

      Well, you know it’s all subjective. The more people that I talked to that have seen it, liked it. Now, I did laugh and was entertained by the effects and took in some quality violence, but those moments were too few and too far between for me. I’m no purist to the character, but when I think about what coulda been with this movie, it just strikes me as a missed opportunity. To be fair, I only used “vapid” once.

  2. Wendi F permalink
    January 16, 2011 2:34 am

    That bums me out. I was hoping for another stylish Michel Gondry flick and perhaps Rogen to be pushed beyond a cloying man-child. Oh well.

  3. Coco permalink
    January 17, 2011 9:52 am

    Bummer! We had been anticipating this movie’s arrival since last summer’s trailers. We’re still going to watch it in the theatres since it looks like it has some martial arts, and we’d like to help promote Asian actors on the big screen. As you know, there are not many Asians in American media. Thanks for incisive review, and you go Chou! Woohoo.


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