The Green Hornet

As bad as the TV show was, I would rather watch Van Williams and Bruce Lee any day.

(A brief break from 1938 for a look at another new release.)

The opening scene of The Green Hornet is great fun. The dour but business-like Chudnofsky, head of the Los Angeles crime world (Christoph Waltz), faces off against a young up-and-comer Danny Clear (James Franco in an uncredited cameo). Waltz and Franco have great fun hamming it up – Franco is cocky and brash while Waltz quietly digests the young man’s insults. The head of Los Angeles crime with the unpronounceable name is washed up, he dresses badly, and, to top it off, he isn’t scary. We watch Waltz’s Chudnofsky shrink with each slur, but Clear’s assertion that Chudnofsky isn’t scary anymore – well that’s too much. He has to show the Young Turk that not only is he still scary, but Clear should be very scared right now.

The energy and humor Waltz and Franco give us in this opening scene, though, quickly dissipates into just another pointless, conventional action-adventure that takes itself too seriously. Maybe, instead of ignoring The Green Hornet’s camp 1960s television history the way Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan did with Batman, the movie should have embraced it.  There is a decent action movie lurking somewhere in there, but it’s wasted on the paint-by-numbers script. Many good elements are in place like Waltz’s interminably insecure Chudnofsky and the energetic Jay Chou as the Green Hornet’s partner Kato, but the movie suffers from two flaws, one that could have been fixed, the other fatal.

Seth Rogen and Jay Chou

 

The first flaw, the one that could have been fixed had someone decided to expend the energy on it, is the script. Everything we would expect is here with little innovation or creativity. Characters are flimsily developed and that would have been fine had the screenplay not depended on the development of Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) from an irresponsible playboy to a crime fighting hero. The first act is especially thin.  We rush through exposition, getting a taste of character development and backstory, but only what we will need to put the pieces together at the end. It feels like writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were anxious to get to the action without deviating too far from the formula. What fun these guys could have had if they had truly thought through the implications of a rich kid using his fortune to fight crime in the real world. And, as I suggested above, melding the real world with the movie’s television legacy could have been a hoot.  Rogen and Goldberg took the easy way out and delivered a connect-the-dots screenplay.

The second major flaw, unlike the first, was unfixable: Seth Rogen. His one-note, grating buffoonery may have sounded appropriate for the character (though I don’t know why), but Rogen isn’t a good enough actor to do anything with it. The movie screeches to a halt every time he is on screen and, since he’s the titular lead of the move, that’s a major problem. He’s creepy around women, is demeaning and racist toward Kato (did we really come to The Green Hornet to see Britt and Kato in an almost five-minute fight scene?), and overestimates his own charm. Rogen mistakes braying with acting. I wonder when directors and studios are going to realize that Rogen is a supporting actor at best. Are we so desperate for leading men that they feel they have to go with a weak actor whose shtick got old half way through The 40 Year old Virgin?

Jay Chou as Kato

On the plus side Taiwanese heartthrob Jay Chou brings an attractive energy to Kato, but the script also fails him. Why not pursue the chemistry between Kato and Britt’s secretary Lenore (Cameron Diaz)? It’s one of two things: either the sidekick can’t get the girl, or we’re still a little squeamish about the “yellow peril” snatching up our white women. Giving the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt I will opt for the former, but that means we have another case of Rogen and Goldberg playing it safe, never challenging the conventions of a superhero script in a way they were in a unique position to do. Chou has done some bad movies in Asia, but why did they have to make his first Hollywood film this rotten?

Director Michel Gondry does his best but he doesn’t push the envelope either. He constructs some striking aesthetics including an invigorating split screen descent into Los Angeles’ underworld and an unusually artistic visual journey through Britt’s thought process as he pieces together what really happened. The rest is pretty much by the book. Like the good work we get from Waltz and Chou, Gondry is ultimately undermined by the feeble script and Seth Rogen’s tiresome screen presence.

This seems to have been something of a passion project for Seth Rogen (aim high, my friend); he co-wrote and executive produced it. The passion, though, does not come through either for the radio program or the television show. There’s a brief nod to Bruce Lee who played Kato on the show and we’re treated to Al Hirt’s invigorating rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee which was the show’s theme. (It did have a life before Quentin Tarantino lifted it for Kill Bill.)  But these references don’t distinguish the overall mess. I wish Rogen, Goldberg, and Gondry had embraced the challenge, really played with the world of the Green Hornet rather than cynically using the franchise for a quick paycheck. The cultural legacy of the Green Hornet deserves better.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “The Green Hornet

  1. Weirdly, I agree with everyone of your remarks, specially regarding Seth Rogen and Gondry’s direction. Still, I gave it a pass (***1/2) because I felt entertained, specially with the opening scene. Maybe it’s my unfamiliarity with the source (my dad was a fanatic of the series with Lee, not the original, but still).

    • I did love that opening scene, but the rest was pretty much what I expect to see in a movie like this but not done all that well. I don’t think being unfamiliar with the radio, film, comic book, or television series should have anything to do with your reaction to the movie. There were entertaining elements in it, but Seth Rogen lowered a mediocre movie even lower. He was truly terrible and will be in the running for worst performance of the year.

  2. I haven’t seen this yet, Jason, but this is a most engaging and well-written review, if pulling no punches. Gondry did give us ETERNAL SUNSHINE, and ever since then I’ve faithfully followed his work. Looks like your advice here is to proceed with caution. Fair enough.

    • Thank you Sam. Gondry is a talented director, though — full disclosure here — I seem to be one of the only people who wasn’t a fan of “Eternal Sunshine.” It was a wonderful idea that went on and on and on and on and on. It was just stretched too thin. In “Green Hornet” there wasn’t even a wonderful idea though.

  3. Pingback: “Johnny Mad Dog,” “The Company Men,” “The Way Home,” “The Leopard” and off-Broadway play “The Divine Sister” on Monday Morning Diary (January 24) « Wonders in the Dark

  4. Gondry is responsible for both one of my favorite films of the 2000’s (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and one of my most hated films (Be Kind Rewind). I find too often these overly creative and kitschy types have no innate sense of when their flights of fancy go from whimsical and sincere to manic and regurgitative….and once they cross that line (see Tim Burton very early on or most sadly and recently, the once magnificent Terry Gilliam) there is no turning back.

    This just looked ill-conceived from the start. And when will people come to their senses and realize how unappealing and unfunny Seth Rogan is? He’s a no-talent ass-clown (boring a line from Office Space). The only movie where I thought his performance (if you can even call his style of one-note self-referential acting a performance) was Observe & Report – where he played a delusional douche-bag with a bloated sense of self-importance who was loathsome (and as it turns out, crazy) the core. Hmmm…sound like someone you know, Seth?

    • …and that should also read at the end….”to the core”

      Ah, typos everywhere on my comment. This thing is riddled with slap-dash nonsense…just like a Gondry film!

      I WILL NEVER COMMENT AGAIN! (Just kidding)

      • Since you have addressed the typo problem I will ignore it and delve right into the substance of what you wrote. First I agree with you about Gondry and directors of his ilk. Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam are good example. The only movies I really liked from either of them are “Ed Wood” from Burton and “Twelve Monkeys” from Gilliam and those are more restrained pictures. As for Gondry I think the only other movie of his I saw was “Eternal Sunshine” which I have to say again I didn’t really enjoy. I think this movie gels with what you are saying. I loved the idea and the issues dealt with but I thought we spent way too much time in Jim Carrey’s mind as he’s trying to hold onto his memories. It became one excuse after another to show off Gondry’s abilities and creativity without adding anything to the story or the characters. It became tiresome after a while.

        And Rogen, as I wrote in the review, is a supporting actor at best. He’s just plain terrible in everything I’ve seen him in (I’ve never seen “Observe and Report” though) and was particularly miscast in this film. I know this isn’t a movie he would tend to do, but I was thinking how interesting it would have been if Ryan Gosling had played the part. Or someone with some gravitas and acting ability.

  5. …that should’ve read “where I thought his performance worked” in reference to Rogen and O&R.

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