When the announcement came down from on high that the long gestating superhero property of “The Green Hornet” was being penned by and starring the then conspicuously chubby funnyman Seth Rogen more than a few eyebrows rose in surprise. Arguably even more eyebrows went further skyward when Michel Gondry was named as the director. Granted the film had slipped through many hands of varied tastes including those of fanboy Kevin Smith and Hong Kong Action comedian Stephen Chow, so it was obvious the producers were looking for a new “angle” in which to take the film. Rogen’s script for “Pineapple Express” together with the direction of indie wunderkind David Gordon Green was an unexpected success so there was a precedent. Nonetheless the pairing of Rogen and Gondry seemed like either a mismatched disaster, or a stroke of genius.
The film begins with a bang, literally, as Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) barges into the office of a young nightclub owner, played by frequent Rogen cohort, James Franco. The inane banter between Waltz and Franco is one of the film’s funnier scenes, illuminating Chudnofsky’s brutality, but also a softer, self-conscious villain who turns out to be the only character I rooted for during the movie.
When we meet the film’s hero, Britt Reid (Rogen), he is little more that a rich, entitled, dummy drinking his way into the pants of most of L.A.’s eligible bachelorettes. He is a typical cad, clad in a blazing white suit with a penchant for property damage. The first scene in which Reid appears a fridge flies through the window of the Standard Hotel. Reid comes striding through the damaged frame, arms raised in triumph; mindless destruction a cause for celebration.
In fact this seems to be the underlying ethos Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg took when approaching the script. The A-Story, The Green Hornet and Kato trying to draw Chudnofsky into a confrontation by posing as villains attempting to hone in his territory, allows for so many explosions, so many bullets fired, so much mayhem that when the end credits finally roll it is hard for one to say they’ve even witnessed a movie. “Green Hornet” seems more like what Rogen, Goldberg, and Gondry assumed an action movie to be, instead of just being one. Strangely enough this makes the movie kind of fun.
The unfun part of “Hornet” is the slimmed down Rogen himself. A common downfall of comedians who achieve success in a short span of time is that they begin to believe everything they say or do is funny – Eddie Murphy, Jack Black, Adam Sandler, to a lesser extent Will Ferrell, have all suffered from the affliction. In “Hornet” Rogen’s Britt Reid is unrelentingly irritating, constantly talking, and never endears himself to the audience in anyway. The awkward, fun wit he displayed in earlier films like “Knocked-Up,” is always striven for, but he only achieves awkward.
Though despite the character’s failings the relationship he has with his partner, Kato (Jay Chou) is entertaining and believable. Reid and Kato first meet after the death of Britt’s father, James (an under used Tom Wilkinson) dies. The two bond over their mutual animosity toward the deceased patriarch, and in a bout of drunken courage decide to do something “crazy.” Their antics evolve into altruism when Britt insinuates himself into a mugging, and Kato has to come to his rescue. The resulting fight sequence lets some of Gondry’s visual mastery shine through, using the 3-D format to stretch out the set, giving Kato a wide field to employ his ample martial arts skills. Kato’s ability to stop time, and examine the situation is taken almost directly from Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes,” but Chou’s dexterity makes up some for the derivative filmmaking.
As the relationship between Britt and Kato grows the film turns into more of a “bromance” than anything else, using the action sequences and the inclusion of Cameron Diaz as ways to further the connection, and disconnection, between the two men. Due to this Diaz’s character, Lenore, is mostly window dressing, a relatively small part for such a big name.
Gondry also serves for little more than a name on a poster. Other than a few montages that feel more like music videos thrown into the middle of an “Action” picture, the film could have been handed off to any director. Since Christopher Nolan took over the “Batman” franchise it seems all the rage to employ the talents of a “serious” filmmaker to heighten the cache of a superhero property. Later this year we have “Thor” coming to theaters inexplicably directed by Kenneth Branagh. Like Branagh, Michel Gondry, has made a career out of distinctly different films than the action/superhero genre, and his skills seem both out of place and wasted in “The Green Hornet.”
Unexpected is welcome, taking a chance on an unusual group of people making a movie is a good thing, but like all experiments the results are never known until tested. Sony tried that experiment in “The Green Hornet,” and the results are a somewhat fun, forgettable diversion kept afloat by some good karate moves, an entertaining performance by a strange German actor, and a lack of any restraint. More movies should be made in this fashion, maybe just don’t let Seth Rogen write all the dialogue himself.
El Luchador Rating:
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)