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Sunday
Jan162011

The Green Hornet (2011)

Punch for Suckers

Before we begin, I’d like to raise my hand and admit that I’m probably the only guy on the planet who hated Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Director Michel Gondry has been a mainstream hipster deity since that film came out, and I haven’t got a clue as to why.  One of these days I’ll get around to watching Eternal Sunshine again, and reviewing it, but I found the movie to be so torturous, so unfunny and unoriginal, and oh, so very, very precious, that the thought of queuing it up for a second time makes my soul quiver (I saw the movie for free, two weeks before release, and I still feel like I’m paying for it today).

I bring up Eternal Sunshine because when I first heard that Gondry had taken over the filmmaking reins on The Green Hornet from Stephen Chow, I was baffled, then concerned, then apathetic.  With Chow attached to the project as both helmer and co-starring as Kato, I had visions of spectacular, inventive fight scenes and a story that balanced whimsy with heart, as with his other films, Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle.  With Gondry behind the camera, I expected something quirky and French—not that there’s anything wrong with French filmmaking, but Gondry’s cutesiness has always struck me as what the average American thinks of European culture: mugging, pretentious, and more than a little stupid.

Throw in Seth Rogen as the co-screenwriter (with childhood friend and Superbad collaborator Evan Goldberg), and all I could hope for was that this would be his launching pad for more serious roles—or at least one in which he didn’t play a slovenly, clueless man-child.

The third problematic pillar lay in the film’s advertised 3D enhancement.  It’s never a good sign.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that any movie with “In 3D” on the poster is guaranteed to be shit.

That’s definitely the case with The Green Hornet, a loud, lousy action movie with exactly one and one-sixteenth good scenes and about ninety-five bad ones.  The movie stars Rogen as Britt Reid, the son of rich and powerful newspaper publisher James Reid (Tom Wilkinson).  Britt is a mid-twenties slacker who parties all night and wrecks his father’s estate while bedding groupies and getting wasted.  We’re meant to feel sorry for him because his asshole father demands that he get a job and do something with his life—which is puzzling, because I couldn’t figure out why this made him an asshole.

James dies suddenly, the victim of a lethal bee sting.  Britt becomes the unwitting successor to the paper empire and his dad’s fortune.  He also inherits Kato (Jay Chou), his father’s mechanic and brewer of fine morning coffee.  The coffee is so good that Britt misses it one morning when he wakes up to find it not at his bedside.  He stomps across the grounds and orders one of his maids to tell him who made the awesome java.  She tells him it was one of the dozens of staff he’d laid off the day before during a hissy fit—remember, this is the hero of the film I’m talking about.

Britt orders Kato to return to the Reid estate.  The two form a reluctant bond over several demonstrations of the cool gadgets Kato build for Britt’s dad, including a souped-up espresso machine and weapons modifications on several vintage cars.  Your may wonder why James Reid needed weapons on his cars—perhaps he was a masked vigilante whose alter ego was a mild-mannered newspaperman?  Nope, it turns out he was just a guy; his connection to the cars is never mentioned again.

Anyway, after getting super drunk, Britt and Kato set out on a mission to decapitate the statue of James that the city erected in his honor.  No, seriously, these are the heroes of the movie; one of them will become The Green Hornet in a few minutes.  After they’ve taken their trophy, Britt witnesses a mugging.  The gang of perps chases him down, but Kato sweeps in with spectacular 3D-enhanced martial arts moves and saves the day.  This inspires the pair to pose as criminals so that they can bring down villains from inside their own ranks.  It’s the one good idea the two have in the whole movie, and its potential is explored for maybe three minutes of the run-time.

For much of the film, The Green Hornet and Kato bumble their way through meth labs and stick-ups, knocking out or murdering thugs and evading police.  It’s the same idea as The Dark Knight, except these crusaders are idiots.

I’m all for the idea of a superhero comedy, but the hero has to have some redeeming qualities.  As a character, Britt Reid just gets more annoying as time goes on.  For one thing, he talks like an eleven-year-old boy.  You know the scenes in every Seth Rogen movie where he gets really abrasive and worked up about something and his voice kind of cracks as his face disappears in a strained comic scrunch?  That’s seventy-five percent of Rogen’s performance here; the balance is reserved for Mischievous Goofy Face and Wow, Look at the Cool Gadgets Face.

The underlying premise of the hero being the sidekick could have been explored by way of Kato being the mature leader of the team.  Alas, the coffee-making mechanic is just about as lame and half-brained as his employer.  The only reason he appears more mature is because he can fight, he has cool hair, and his hushed broken English masks what probably sounds a lot like Seth Rogen’s voice in Chinese.  Kato does nothing to rein in Reid’s antics until late in the movie, when Reid tries to mark his territory with the allegedly hot new secretary, Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz).  This leads to the inevitable breakup of the duo, which leads to the inevitable zero-hour reconciliation, where they stand strong against an unstoppable foe.

The foe in this case is a diminutive crime lord named Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz).  The one and one-sixteenth scenes I mentioned earlier are his introduction and his death scenes.  In the beginning of The Green Hornet, Chudnofsky meets with an up-and-coming drug kingpin named Danny “Crystal” Clear (James Franco).  In this almost perfectly written exchange, the old guard clashes with the new guard and Waltz comes close to matching the creepy nice-guy act he perfected in Inglourious Basterds.  I didn’t want this scene to end, and in an exciting parallel universe, this movie is about two supervillains fighting for supremacy and staving off the minor threat of The Green Hornet.

I opened this review by bagging on Michel Gondry, and you may think that constitutes bias.  I think I’ve said before that no matter what baggage I bring into a theatre (it’s impossible not to, if you actually care about film as an art form), every movie gets a clean slate from me.  I’ve been wowed by actors and directors I’d previously derided, and let down by heroes I’d believed could do no wrong.  In the case of The Green Hornet, my suspicions about Gondry’s abilities turned out to be true, but not in the way I’d expected.

The Green Hornet is a bad action comedy that reminded me a lot of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies.  It's loud and kinetic, and seems designed to appeal to teenagers and the kind of morons who will laugh hysterically at a bit involving Seth Rogen shooting himself in the face with a gas gun—even after they’ve seen it in trailers for months (I witnessed this firsthand in my screening; three people hyperventilated with laughter—seriously hyperventilated—for two minutes, well into the next scene).  I daydreamed a lot during the action scenes, which suffered from a lack of imagination and coherence; it’s like the entire enterprise was made to suit the 3D element, and not the other way around.

There are a few Gondry flourishes, mostly involving sped-up time-lapse sequences that serve as a cruel reminder that the rest of the movie will play out in real-time.  But The Green Hornet is a very generic, very American movie.  I can safely say that I hated it independent of Gondry’s involvement—which isn’t a good sign, even if you’re on the director’s side.

I can’t help but think what this movie would have been like if Stephen Chow had stayed on as director and co-star—with a charismatic leading man as Britt Reid (people have suggested George Clooney, who seems born to play the part).  Maybe in another decade or so we’ll get the Green Hornet movie we deserve.  In the meantime, we’re stuck with the Yo! Gabba Gabba version; which is fine, if you’re five years old and don’t know shit about movies.

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