Tuesday, January 18, 2011



- Did the world really need a Green Hornet movie? This is, afterall, an old property, one that last enjoyed widespread popularity in the 60's via a short-lived TV show, most notable for the fact that sidekick Kato was played by the great Bruce Lee. Prior to that, The Green Hornet began as a pulpy radio show. I don't know that the property had a large, rabid fanbase, and I don't know if anyone was truly clamoring for a Green Hornet movie. And yet, a Green Hornet movie languished in development hell for years - with George Clooney once attached to star, with Kevin Smith once attached to write and direct. Even the current iteration, the one that made it to theaters, was riddled with false starts. Ultimately, we got Green Hornet: The Buddy Comedy, from the Guys Who Brought You Superbad. And the whole thing has to make you just a little bit cynical about the whole process of turning old IP (intellectual property) into movies. With something like Green Hornet, what you want is a filmmaker to come along who has a real passion for the material, someone who dreamed of making a Green Hornet movie as a kid. You want someone with a vision, someone who saw something special in the characters that they could convey to a modern audience - what is it about The Green Hornet that makes him awesome? Because honestly, I'm not sure. Is it the dynamic between The Hornet and Kato? Is it the martial arts and the gadgets? Is it the pulpy, shadowy vibe of the original radio show? Maybe it's all of the above, and maybe there is a really cool way to take those core elements and update them for a modern audience (Kevin Smith, for example, was going to introduce a female version of Kato). When I start to imagine a Tarantino-esque, trippy-60's, pulp version of The Green Hornet - The Green Hornet as a retro pulp fiction kung-fu adventure film - I start to see how this could have been something truly unique and kickass. But then, there's the other great alternative when you don't quite know what to do with a superhero story: turn it into a joke. And maybe that's why the new Green Hornet sort of makes me shudder in principle: I thought we had gotten away from the era of turning iconic heroes into punchlines. We went from Joel Schumaker Batman to Christopher Nolan Batman. We went from a Green Lantern movie that was once going to be a comedy vehicle for Jack Black to a (hopefully) badass GL space-opera that stays true to the comics. We're in an era where everything from Watchmen to Sin City has been adapted in a respectful manner. Seeing The Green Hornet as a comedy was, to that end, sort of jarring. Well, maybe not so much jarring as simply yawn-inducing. Like I said, this movie had to sell me and millions of others on what, exactly, was so cool about the Green Hornet. "Oh, it's just a goofy comedy? Not quite as interested."

But you know what, there's nothing inherently bad about a goofy comedy. In fact, I love me a good comedy. But here's what kills me -- why not CREATE a great superhero comedy or satire, if that's the kind of movie that you're so inclined to make? I know - easier said than done. But I think of it this way ... if you sat down and came up with all the possible ways to reimagine The Green Hornet, making it into a comedy is, I suppose, a *pretty good* way to modernize the property and have some fun with it. But is it the *best* way to do it? No, I don't think so.

Of course, you could justify doing this as a comedy if the movie was absolutely hilarious. And here's where The Green Hornet loses a lot of credibility. Because it has some amusing moments, but ultimately it just isn't all that funny. It's especially disappointing because the opening of the movie really got me excited that this could be a great comedy/action movie. The film opens with our villain, played by Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, confronting a rival gangster played by an uncredited James Franco. It's a great scene - very funny - with some well done banter between Waltz and Franco. At that point, I was beginning to think that I was in for an action comedy that had the same sort of humor and excitement as, say, Pineapple Express (which I love).

But after that great opening, The Green Hornet really starts to go downhill. All of the plot that follows is just rudimentary setup for the buddy-banter between the Hornet (Seth Rogen) and Kato (Jay Chou). The Hornet is Britt Read, the trust-fund baby son of a wealthy newspaper owner who spends his days partying and being lazy. When Britt's father is killed (could it be ... murder?!), Britt finds a new sense of purpose when he meets Kato, his dad's former assistant. Kato, a martial arts expert and science wiz, has (for some reason) been inventing all sorts of cool gadgets that would be perfect if someone were to, say, become a superhero. One night, Britt and Kato go cruising on the town in one of Kato's souped-up, Batmobile-style cars, fight some crime, and get addicted to the rush of do-gooding. And so, Britt becomes the self-styled superhero known as The Green Hornet - though of course it's Kato who is the brains and muscle behind the operation.

There are some fun moments between Britt and Kato, but you get the feeling that these moments would work just as well in a standard, Superbad-like comedy. It's entertaining to watch the odd couple trade insults, fight over Britt's attractive secretary (Cameron Diaz, who does almost nothing memorable the entire movie), and cruise the streets singing Coolio's 90's hip-hop hit Gangsta's Paradise. But again, none of those things have anything to do with The Green Hornet. What little plot that we do get seems completely half-assed. The movie half-heartedly tries to incorporate the idea that our heroes pose as villains to foil the villains' plans, but it's a concept that never really makes any sense in the context of the movie. The film also completely misses with its main villain. It's a shame, because we all know Christoph Waltz is capable of being an amazing bad guy (Inglorious Basterds, anyone?). But he has absolutely nothing to work with here. The joke is supposed to be that his character, an old-school gangster named Chudnofsky, is boring and outdated - he needs to become flashier and more exciting to compete with The Green Hornet. But this joke has almost no payoff, and Waltz doesn't even get any memorable one-liners to play with. It's a waste of a great actor. Speaking of which, the great Tom Wilkinson appears as Britt's father, and again, does and says nothing memorable whatsoever. It's hard to believe what a waste this is of one of the best actors around. Even our two main characters feel pretty flat. Britt's decision to become a superhero never feels fully explained, and the extent of his goals as a crime fighter is never really touched upon. Kato, meanwhile, is basically a blank slate. It would have been nice for him to have a little more backstory than just "cool Asian guy who is awesome at fighting and science".

So okay, maybe the plot is lacking, maybe the villain is fairly weaksauce ... but at least there are fun action scenes, right? Not really. Director Michel Gondry has done some amazing work in the past - this is, of course, the man who directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But he just seems out of his element in this one, and his unique style clashes hard with the stoner comedy of writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. It feels like Gondry is torn about what to do here. He inserts a couple of artsy-ish scenes into the film that feel very Gondry-like, and that are sort of cool, but they also feel very jarring since most of the film is more standard 90's-style action movie fare. And as for the action, to me this movie is filled with the kind of action scenes that always bug me - the ones where a lot is happening on screen, but you really have no clue what's going on. I honestly just zoned out during a lot of the big chase scenes, because I felt like there was no rhyme or reason to them, and there was no sense of who was after who, and why.

Finally, as I alluded to, I just didn't think that The Green Hornet was that funny. Just as Gondry's direction seemed torn between being artsy and being standard-issue, the script felt similarly torn in different directions. Anytime that Rogen and Goldberg had to fit in the usual superhero-movie tropes, it seemed like they were very uncomfortable and the result is a lot of awkward scenes that gloss over things that seem important. I think their strength is in those little moments of random dialogue (see Superbad), but bits of clever dialogue will only get you so far in THE GREEN HORNET.

Overall, the film just felt like something of a mess. For every scene or moment that I really enjoyed, there were many more bits that just fell flat. And there was just that sense that all of this was forced - dictated by studio execs rather than creatives - that permeated the whole movie. It felt like Rogen and Goldberg and Gondry were hired guns brought in to salvage whatever scraps they could of a doomed project, but it was too little, too late. I don't blame those guys, because they are all clearly very talented individuals, and they tend to make outside-of-the-box movies that you want to root for and support. Instead I blame a movie-making system that has OCD-like symptoms where EVERY character or IP that's ever had any sort of following must be brought back to squeeze whatever cash is left out of it (and the fact that this movie was retro-converted to 3D - for no justifiable reason - further sours things). I just feel like if you're going to make a Green Hornet movie, go for broke and make the best damn Green Hornet movie that can be made. Instead, this movie just sort of depressed me, because it felt like a return to the bad old days of superhero movies.

My Grade: C-

1 comment:

  1. I feel like you were overly generous with a C- grade. The movie was an utter mess, best suited for 13 year old boys with short attention spans. I would have loved for the movie to have been written and filmed as cinema noir.

    On a brighter note, you have to admit that the costumes were bad-ass. There is something to be said for a superhero with such a subtle costume, and I can guarantee it'll be a hit next Halloween.