The Green Hornet
Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Seth Rogan, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz
Review: 2.5 stars (of five)
Are you wondering how the director and credited co-writer of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ended up doing a January-released comic book movie? Yeah, me too.
The long and winding production history of a Green Hornet movie, which began with someone realizing they owned the Green Hornet rights and, hey, comic book movies are hot, sweeps through the majestic possibilities of a Kevin Smith version (“Hey, Kato, did you ever wonder what was up with Princess Leia’s hair in Star Wars?”) to the not-very-different reality of a version co-written by, and starring, Seth Rogan. Either way, there’s an emphasis on male mediocrity, on main characters with size-twelve feet of clay, and on gay panic. It’s modern male comedy, baby.
What’s good in this film:
- The opening scene, in which a slumming James Franco and an understated Christoph Waltz (brilliant in Inglorious Basterds) do an over-the-top mobster tete-a-tete.
- All scenes with Waltz, who’s a stereotypical evil mobster played with a light touch and a measure of glee that only makes you wish he’d had a bigger role.
- Jay Chou as Kato. He has a brief resume in Chinese film, but this is his English language debut, and he feels fresh, natural and charming.
- The comic balance. While a fair chunk of the humor is cringe-worthy if you’re a moderately enlightened human, the balance between light moments and action is very nicely handled.
- The fistfights. There’s a realness to the way a couple of guys fighting crime, one of them with no combat training, are presented. It’s not slick, it’s not “cool.” What is cool is Gondry’s approach to Kato’s martial-arts instincts, which include a low-key visual gimmick that gives us something new to work with.
- The action setpieces. A scene in which the Hornet’s car, the Black Beauty, is pinned down at a construction site and the ridiculous final action sequence both have plenty of novelty, and for a movie that’s not spending billions on special effects, that’s really appreciated.
What’s crap about this film:
- The gay panic. Rogan and the guy he worked closely with to write this film seem to thing that two straight guys who are friends that work together need to make jokes about how they’re not gay, and are uncomfortable with each other, every five minutes. Writing sessions must’ve been a scream.
- The sexist behavior. There’s one woman in this film, an underused, way-beneath-herself Cameron Diaz; and as Rogan’s secretary, she is subjected to demeaning, disrespectful behavior and crude adolescent come-ons. It’s tiring, and sad that the writers not only think this is funny, but that this is how a hero acts.
- The hero. Yes, modern fratboy male humor focuses on men with feet of clay, men who are schmucks, not icons. Fine. But Rogan’s Britt Reid is vain, venal, incompetent, a bad friend, self-indulgent and stupid. Start to finish.
- The story. It has its moments, cited above, but it’s pretty dull on a structural and conceptual level. The bad guy “runs all crime in L.A.” He has henchmen and bought politicians. The heroes will beat up street level thugs, then face the bad guy, then it’s over. A little more thought could’ve gone into it, y’know?
- The bullets. Too much gunplay. Despite some notably good action bits, there is too much reliance on automatic weapons, particularly from the heroes. Another thing the writers might’ve thought out a little better.
In fairness: It’s worth noting that January is the traditional dumping ground of the worst movies of the year. On the Nicolas Cage scale, it’s where they put the Season of the Witches that almost make the Ghost Riders and the Nexts palatable. This is not a January-quality movie. It’s a February piece at worst, maybe even mid-March.
The verdict: Someone had to make a Green Hornet movie someday. Despite the fact that no one on earth particularly wants to see one. It’s how Hollywood’s intellectual property strip-mine works. So here it is. Weigh the above pluses and minuses and see how it balances out for your tastes.