The Green Hornet (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Green Hornet (2011)

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Andrew INDIFFERENTThe Green Hornet is a project that combines two shaky talents into a very uneven product.  Part of the problem is that the two major creative influences, director Michel Gondry and writer/star Seth Rogen, work best when they have partners that can taper the more extreme ends of their styles and personalities, yet, somehow, the reverse effect happens here.

None of Rogen’s slightly rugged geeky charm comes through and Michel Gondry is given little to no room to experiment with the material.
That said, the production history for The Green Hornet is long and troubled, so maybe this is the best film that  we’ll get from the story for some time.  Still, it’s hard to defend results this drab, but there are still some bright spots.

The story of the Green Hornet began in the 30’s with a radio show and had a brief revival in the 60’s in a campy TV show that ran alongside the "Batman" TV series with Adam West.  Aside from adding a bit more cheeky fun into television, the original 60’s show is best remembered for introducing American audiences to Bruce Lee.

Rogen and Gondry try to capture some of the off-beat tone of the 60’s show but mire their work in too much darkness and saddle it with an occasionally wretched human being as the lead character.  Seth Rogen is Britt Reid, the rich child of a newspaper mogul who has the responsibility of maintaining the empire thrust upon him when his dad dies suddenly of a bee sting.  Since his dad is played by the magnificent Tom Wilkinson I was hoping we’d get to see more of him than we do, and that he wouldn’t be relegated to spelling out every single one of Britt’s motivations to him in the opening scenes.

"My mouth says 'whoa', but my eyebrows say 'wowza'!"

After his father’s death, Britt fires anyone that worked for his dad and discovers that the new staff can’t make a good cup of coffee.  Britt’s questioning about why the old coffee was so good leads him to find Kato (Jay Chou), his father’s barista/mechanic/inventor/weapons specialist.  After a quick tour of the surprisingly expansive collection of weaponry that Kato has managed to develop, the two of them take to the streets and break up a mugging.  The cops catch wind of this, dub the duo criminals, and Britt takes it upon himself to utilize his dad’s once mighty newspaper to report on his own antics.

There’s an interesting subtext running through all of this that the fantasy of the superhero is pulled directly from way too much white privilege.  Britt’s behavior certainly supports this on more than one occasion.  But the film is to dreary to do anything about it and I spent most of the time rooting for Britt to take a bullet to the head.  The tone is slapstick, but the production is sub-Tim Burton with black being the color of the day with the occasional splash of green and red.

The film just pulls intriguing details tantalizingly close and then rips them away.  There’s the amazing screen presence of Tom Wilkinson that’s taken out before too long.  Then they cast Edward James Olmos, one of the only men alive that can rip a screen away from Wilkinson, and give him next to nothing to do as the managing editor of the newspaper.  There’s an interesting story there about a good man watching a dying business waste it’s time on stupid shenanigans, but nothing is done with it .  I even felt bad for the perpetually underrated Cameron Diaz.  She’s pretty adorable and believable as a criminology geek here, and at least gets a few good scenes that prove just how bumbling our leads are.

"Are zey bumblink? I vill show you bumblink!"

The only pure success in the film comes from the villain played by Christoph Waltz.  He plays a Russian gangster named Chudnofsky who is mired in a mid-life crisis and takes his queues from opposing gangsters about how to alter his persona.  This is brilliantly realized in an opening scene opposite James Franco (one of Rogen’s buddies) where Chudnofsky is accused of not being interesting enough (“I made a double barreled gun.  That’s hard, is it not interesting?”)  Then there’s Waltz’s performance, which is equal mix Boris Badenov, Christopher Walken and the sadistic Nazi dentist from Marathon Man.

A few quick nods to Bruce Lee, the occasional funny joke, and an amazing villain aren’t enough to salvage the production though.  Gondry’s special effects, when he’s actual given the freedom to use them, have the unfortunate effects of being unoriginal, poorly utilized, and  the added bonus of making it almost impossible to follow the fight scenes.  Rogen’s script is a mess, and I kind of liked Jay Chou but his shaky command of English (another nod to Lee) but it was still more distracting than charming.

No doubt there will be a compilation of Christoph Waltz’s amazing scenes on YouTube someday.  That will be a wonderful 10 minute reel I’m sure to revisit when feeling down.  The Green Hornet at large, though?  Too much like slurping oil and water to make my time worthwhile.

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Posted by Andrew

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