Friday, January 21, 2011

Movie Review: "The Green Hornet"

Most superhero movies require a familiarity with the source material. "The Green Hornet" may be the first to demand tolerance for the star.

Those who find Seth Rogen's sarcastic, slacker shtick grating will likely not make it to the end of "The Green Hornet" without wondering whether their headache is from the 3D or his smoker's-cough laugh. Fans of the "Knocked Up" star will fare better, although even they may find themselves wishing he were more like his silent sidekick.

A mashup of "Pineapple Express" and "Batman," but not nearly as cool as that sounds, "The Green Hornet" is entertaining in fits and starts but ultimately disposable, empty fare.

Not that Rogen isn't trying. The formerly rotund comic slimmed down for his role as Britt Reid, immature son of a newspaper magnate (Tom Wilkinson) who spends his days acting out his daddy issues by throwing wild parties and making out in the family garage. The role is basically an amalgam of all of Rogen's previous roles, and if you found him funny in "40-Year-Old Virgin," you'll probably find some chuckles here.

Things get serious, though, when Britt's father dies of a bee sting. Unsure of how to proceed without his dad's domineering shadow over him, Britt refuses to become involved in the newspaper business and fires all of his family's personal staff. When he learns that his morning coffee will no longer be made to his liking, Britt demands to see the man responsible, his father's mechanic, Kato (Jay Chou). Kato's something of a renaissance mechanic, fixing up Britt's father's cars with indestructible armor and weaponry, ably sketching beautiful women and possessing incredible martial arts knowledge. After a night of heavy drinking and ill-advised heroics, the two decide they should team up as superheroes who masquerade as villains. I'm still not really sure why they go that route, except that it allows for several scenes of Rogen being able to fake acting tough around drug lords.

It's not really a secret that Kato was always cooler than the Green Hornet. After all, mostly everyone knows that Kato was played in the 1960s TV show by martial arts icon Bruce Lee; few people are aware who tackled the role of Britt Reid (trivia: it was Van Williams). And while Rogen has notably slimmed down for his first superhero role, it is Chou who does all the heavy kicking and punching. Rogen's just around for the wisecracks.

It may sound like I'm ragging on the funnyman, and that's not my intention. I've been a fan of Rogen's work since "Knocked Up" and think he's funny, likable and surprisingly nuanced, even in films that don't completely work, like "Funny People" or "Observe and Report." There's a lot of humor to be had in "The Green Hornet," particularly because of the chemistry between Rogen and Chou, who rarely speaks, which nicely compliments the movie's star, who never shuts up. Britt's "I don't give a care" attitude is funny in the film's early scenes and there's a fanboy humor to his elation at actually going out and being a superhero.

Were this a straight comedy, like "Pineapple Express," the humor would be fine. But the script by Rogen and his frequent co-writer Evan Goldberg wants us to truly invest in the superhero story at its heart. Rogen is so constantly mugging and cracking jokes that he makes Britt an unlikable jerk throughout much of the movie. When he makes his inevitable turn to the light at the end of the movie, it doesn't register because we never believe Rogen's sincerity for a moment. Again, were this strictly a comedy it might work - but we're supposed to be engaged in the adventure, laughing with, but never at, our hero.

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" director Michel Gondry is surprisingly adept at the action sequences and brings a nice visual charge to Kato's battles; when the sidekick gets ready to attack, the world slows down and the background elongates - a pretty cool effect, especially in 3D. Gondry delivers a few fun action sequences, including a climax that goes wonderfully over the top, but he fails to hold together the patchwork plot whenever the focus shifts from Britt and Kato, letting both Edward James Olmos and Cameron Diaz flounder in supporting roles that somehow weigh down the story even though the characters are nothing but fluff. Only "Inglourious Basterds'" Christoph Waltz registers some laughs, as a villain who only wants to be feared. Waltz brings a slightly different shade to his low-key villain and garners some entertaining moments, although the film struggles to shoehorn him into its already convoluted plot.

My reaction to "The Green Hornet" is fairly complex. Yes, I laughed quite a bit while watching it, particularly at the chemistry between Rogen and Chou. But even as I headed out to my car I found myself irked and irritated by how weightless and unnecessary the entire affair was. Perhaps were we not in an age where superhero movies are consistently great - or if we went back four years, where Rogen was still fresh and new - I would have laughed more. Here all I can do is ambivalently swat "The Green Hornet" away.

1 comment:

  1. The "disguised as villains" gimmick confused me too. I had never been exposed to the earlier Green Hornet TV series or radio programs, so perhaps there is an explanation to be found there. But my best guess is that the characters felt safer if they were hunted by the authorities instead of gangsters that felt threatened by them.

    Your overall reaction was pretty much the same as mine. A perfectly acceptable action comedy but nothing more than that.



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30s, engaged and living in Motown. Wrestling with life, love, faith, art, film, culture and everything in between.