It’s hard to separate The Green Hornet from the troubles it went through in production. From Stephen Chow coming in and out of the production, from Nicholas Cage’s near turn as a faux-Jamaican gangster, from the decision to move from December to January and get retrofitted for 3-D, to Seth Rogen becoming less and less bankable, that the film is being released at all and is not half bad seems miraculous. Ultimately, the film isn’t that great, but it works well enough to be fun even though it probably shouldn’t. It’s a very rickety bridge, but it doesn’t collapse. I found it too amiable and too shaggy to hate. It’s weird to have such sympathy for what amounts to a very expensive movie, but that may have something to do with the goodwill director Michel Gondry, Seth Rogen and Christoph Waltz generate.
Rogen stars as Britt Reid, the playboy son of Newspaper magnate James Reid (Tom Wilkinson). James is disappointed in his son, and Britt spends most of his time partying. When James dies of a bee sting, it leaves Britt so shattered he fires everyone in his mansion (sort of, this isn’t particularly well explained), only to realize that he loves the coffee one of those people makes. It turns out the gourmet coffee-maker is also his father’s car mechanic Kato (Jay Chou), and so Britt re-hires him and by default makes him his new best friend. One night Britt decides they should desecrate the statue made of his father, but while out the two get in a fight with generic thugs. Or at least Kato kicks their ass, and does so in “Kato-vision,” which is an effect that’s pretty cool in which time slows down, weapons are highlighted and the images extend – it’s interesting enough one wishes they used it more. Having successfully beaten up some toughs, Britt decides they should be vigilantes, but also that they should pretend to be bad guys. This puts him in the surveyor’s signal of Los Angeles’s biggest crime boss, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), who is going through a villain’s mid-life crisis brought on by a run-in with another criminal (a cameo I wouldn’t ruin, but one that suggests the opening sequence was reshot later). To help themselves figure out what to do, they use reporter Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) to plot their actions, and try to take down Chudnofsky (I must ask: was the villain named after this site?), but as this is an origin tale, we see how they add things to their car, find tools and weapons to use, and how to work together – or at least how to manage Britt’s inflated self-worth.
This is one of the sloppiest mainstream films I’ve seen in a very long time. Perhaps director Michel Gondry didn’t figure out how to shoot the action scenes (which is weird because he had Vic Armstrong as his second unit director), so the action is surprisingly sparse in the middle of the film, and what appears to be an entire car chase and fight sequence is reduced to a montage. There are also a number of action moments where you want to like it more than you do – there are a number of great ideas that just don’t pop. It feels like there could have been more of everything, but then there’s too much time devoted to Diaz, who is called old in one of her first scenes, and has little to do in the film. Like her role in Gangs of New York, Diaz seems inserted in the film to simply have a female lead, though here she also seems to ward off the specter of homosexuality that comes with two guys in costumes working together. It’s fun to see Waltz after his star-making turn in Inglourious Basterds, but there’s not much for him here, and his transition toward the end into super-villainy is another good idea poorly executed. It’s hard to know how much more of him there was, but – like Edward Furlong’s role – it feels like much was left on the cutting room floor (which is also apparent in re-watching the trailer after seeing the film). Of note: One of Waltz’s henchmen is Chad Coleman, aka Cutty from The Wire.
Perhaps working for producer Neal Moritz didn’t jibe well with Gondry, as his usual sense of whimsy and artistic flourishes are relegated to a couple moments here and there. For the most part he seems slightly disengaged, as the film never feels light on its feet like his best work. This review sounds negative, and it’s hard not to pick apart the pieces of the film, but while its playing, Rogen and Chou have a number of fun scenes together and it’s never boring – but perhaps removed from the context of “oh my god, this film is going to be a disaster!” it wouldn’t play as well. If Joseph Kahn’s Torque was like a high-gloss version of a Canon movie, The Green Hornet feels more like homage to the filmmaking talents of someone like James Glickenhaus.
And that’s where the film eventually succeeds. It’s a Red Heat/Running Scared-type movie about an unlikely duo that has at least one party actively disliking the other. Rogen is playing an ignorant moneyed guy who thinks he’s the star of his own movie, and doesn’t realize that he’s been one-upped by his supposed side-kick. Early on, Rogen sets up that his character is basically an eleven-year-old who goes through life with his emotions pitched high toward whatever enthusiasms he has at the moment. It’s a bold choice, and it’s going to turn off many viewers, but I found it to be sort of charming. But it also reveals the film’s secret, which is that Kato is the real star of the film, and – as played by Jay Chou – it would be a star-making performance if it seemed like he could speak English with any ease (though Chou is already an international superstar, so I’m sure he’s not sweating it). Chou spends most of the time cringing at Rogen’s antics, and for that dialogue is unnecessary. It’s a new enough dynamic to give the film just enough energy to get over the finish line.
As for the 3-D, The Green Hornet is one of the last big studio films that has been or will be post-converted. Right now I believe only Thor and Harry Potter Seven Part 2 are still said to be retro-actively 3-Dified. As that was the case with this film, I saw The Green Hornet in 2-D and not it in 3-D – even though I had the option to (to be fair, I also had another screening). I cannot comment on the quality of the 3-D, though I’ve heard people think it runs the gamut. To that, I was tempted to see the film again, and I can’t tell if its sloppy charms are of the sort that will turn it into good comfort food cinema, or the sort of thing that only gets worse the more you watch it.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars