One of the great drawbacks to being a film lover is that we are cursed to suffer through the first two months of every year. The January/February season is notorious for being the traditional dumping ground of cinema. It’s the time frame when studios can quietly dump their smelliest stinkers while moviegoers are distracted by awards speculation, secure in the knowledge that the year’s early duds will be mostly forgotten when the time comes for critics to start writing their annual “Worst of” lists.
There are exceptions, of course. The phenomenal Shutter Island, for example, was inexplicably released in February of 2010. And who could forget when Cloverfield made its release date of “1-18-08″ famous even before its title was known? The season can even yield unexpected box office smashes, such as that miraculous confluence of events that led Paul Blart: Mall Cop to its fluke $146 million domestic take in January of ’09. On the other hand, January of ’10 has already yielded such godawful movies as Season of the Witch, Country Strong and The Dilemma.
Then there’s The Green Hornet.
This is a film that was initially scheduled for December ’10, but got pushed into January ’11 to allow more time for 3D post-conversion and to avoid confrontation with Tron: Legacy. This was only the last and arguably the least of the troubles that went into this film’s making. The movie spent 20 years in development hell, chewing up and spitting out such talent as George Clooney, Jet Li and Jake Gyllenhaal, not to mention Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Christopher McQuarrie, Kevin Smith and Harvey friggin’ Weinstein. Even after the duo of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg came aboard, this project still had to deal with last-minute departures from Stephen Chow (who was also set to direct) and Nicolas Cage. Both of whom were respectively replaced by Jay Chou and Christoph Waltz under the direction of Michel Gondry… who had previously signed onto this project in 1997 and left a year and a half later.
There’s been a gray cloud hanging over this movie from the outset, but I personally remained optimistic. I honestly thought that Seth Rogen was trying to branch out with this film, proving that he could defy the odds and do action as well as comedy (hey, it worked for Michael Cera). Furthermore, I thought that this film was going to deliver a mix of fight scenes and jokes that would be totally unique to the superhero genre. I thought that together with the superbly creative visual genius of Michel Gondry, this mix of talent could yield something new and different and exciting.
Wow, do I feel like an idiot now.
Seth Rogen’s performance here singlehandedly kills this movie. He’s annoying, he’s pompous, he’s stupid and he completely fails to acknowledge the life-and-death stakes that he and Kato are playing for. He so obsessively uses his newspaper company to play up the Green Hornet’s infamy that he might as well wear his costume to work. What’s even worse is that this character never makes the slightest effort to kick ass. He doesn’t even ask Kato for sparring practice — in fact, Kato builds him a weapon and Britt picks a fight over it! Granted, the Hornet does get a 30-second fight scene at the climax, but it ends in an embarrassing fashion for him.
Basically put: It’s like Rogen was trying to make Britt Reid a copy of that womanizing, drunken, arrogant, irresponsible playboy Tony Stark, but without any of the ample brains or charm that made the latter character likable. This character is never remotely sympathetic, and that’s really where this movie fails hard.
You see, a huge part of the superhero genre’s appeal — some might say the only part — is the fantasy element. It’s about believing that even the weakest of us may only be a few billion dollars and/or a radioactive spider-bite from kicking ass and saving lives. What’s more, movies like Iron Man, Spider-Man and Superman succeeded because when their heroic leads took flight, we were soaring right there with them. At the very least, a superhero has to be someone we can relate to and cheer for, as in Kick-Ass. I’ll grant that Watchmen is a notable exception, but that story deliberately made its superheroes less than heroic so as to make an artistic statement against the fantasy element.
With all of that said, tell me: Billionaire status aside, who would want to be The Green Hornet as played by Seth Rogen? Who could possibly relate to this bumbling idiot with a mask? I’ll grant that the gadgets are cool, but that has nothing to do with Green Hornet and everything to do with Kato.
Jay Chou is way too good to be in this movie. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s got mad fighting skills and he even shows a touch of musical talent. This guy knocks the role of Kato out of the park. Such a pity, then, that his chemistry with Rogen is pretty much nil. Easily the best scene between the two is when Kato feuds with Britt, kicking him from one end of the Reid estate to the other. I’ll give you one guess as to why I enjoyed it so much.
The great Adm. Adama himself, Eddie James Olmos, gets a far more thankless role as Britt’s mentor on the newspaper staff. Olmos is clearly giving the role every ounce of heart and sincerity he can muster, and the role certainly benefits from it. Alas, his character has precious little screen time and all of his wisdom falls on Britt’s deaf ears. Michael Wilkinson was given a similarly raw deal, since he could only play James Reid as a total dick before getting killed off ten minutes in.
But easily the worst acting handicap went to our villain. Chudnofsky is a character whose gimmick is that he has no gimmick. Through the entire film, Chudnofsky struggles with the fact that his name is unpronounceable, he has a bland fashion sense and his crimes have zero flair. The only memorable thing about him is his distinctive double-barreled pistol, which has to be the most laughably impractical weapon I’ve seen since the Gunblade. By design, this character has no charisma and he is not scary. So why the hell is he being played by Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar last year with practically no competition because of how scary and charismatic he was in Inglourious Basterds? I haven’t seen anyone onscreen this physically and painfully hindered since 127 Hours. What a total waste of talent.
(Speaking of James Franco, he got an uncredited cameo at the start of the film, playing a flamboyant club owner/crystal meth dealer nicknamed “Crystal Cleer.” Franco chewed so much scenery and plainly had so much fun with the role that I find myself wishing he was the villain instead.)
Of all the members in our supporting cast, easily the best of them is also the most unlikely. I always find it refreshing when the female lead of an action movie is more than just a love interest or a damsel in distress, and Cameron Diaz plays Lenore Case like the anti-love interest. Sure, Britt and Kato both work to woo her, but Lenore makes it abundantly clear that she’s not interested in either of them. What’s more, she’s never once put in any position of danger and she even gets to beat up our two heroes on occasion. Diaz plays the role with a surprising amount of intelligence and backbone, and her underrated comedic skills are subtly used to solid effect.
The action scenes are quite serviceable, especially that jaw-dropping climax. However, the car chase of the climax suffers from the absence of previously-established weapons that are never used in moments when they would be ideal (the rear missiles and “Ben-Hur” wheel blades come to mind). The first car chase is also hurt because it was totally unnecessary: They attracted police attention for absolutely zero good reason.
Still, it helped that the action scenes were visually quite interesting. Aside from the nicely-shot car chases, the film also had fistfights with a strange “vision” effect. Apparently, the idea was to show us the fight scenes from Kato’s POV, highlighting available weapons and utilizing a new twist on the old “bullet-time” effect. Gondry also includes a sort of montage that shows news being spread about a bounty on Green Hornet’s life. This sequence is quite inventive, using split-screens within split-screens to simultaneously follow several characters in their branching paths. What’s more, we see the inner workings of Britt Reid’s mind as he pieces together Chudnofsky’s master plan, which Gondry makes to look like some kind of bizarro kaleidoscope/collage hybrid. These sequences are all visually creative, yet totally excessive and more than a little distracting.
However, there’s the matter of 3D. I know that this movie was converted to 3D in post and I know that I’ve gone on record against 3D movies that weren’t shot in 3D. Still, this movie’s conversion reportedly went through so much TLC and I’ve heard such good things about the 3D in this film that I decided to give it a shot. I’m glad I did. The 3D in this movie is phenomenal and used to wonderful effect. I seriously couldn’t see any sign of post-conversion. Staggering job.
The narrative is unfortunately predictable in several places and plagued throughout by Green Hornet’s ineptitude. The film also has several plot holes and implausibilities, such as the untreated bullet wound at the film’s end. Speaking of which, the pacing for this movie was quite bad after the climax. The denouement stretched on for way too long, even continuing past the iconic “Flight of the Bumblebee” theme that should have ended the film. Worst of all, the character development was totally out of whack. There were several times when I thought that Britt could have and should have grown into a smarter and stronger character who knew and accepted the risks to his own life, but no such luck.
Also, Kato can’t swim. Seriously, What the fuck?
The Green Hornet is a well-meaning failure. The cast and crew were obviously trying to make something novel and special, but they simply were not equal to the challenge. Michel Gondry’s trademark visual flair is in effect, but far below his usual standard. Seth Rogen is particularly bad, as he shows absolutely no effort toward being a viable action star and his character is so unlikeable that it kills any attempt at comedy. Kato is awesome and the action is pretty good, but with a title hero this unsympathetic and a villain so horribly conceived, the film is DOA.