Review: The Green Hornet


The Green Hornet

I'm growing tired of superhero movies and think it's time for a break, not that the Hollywood or comic-book honchos will listen to me. Superhero films, especially the first in a series, tend to be inherently predictable. And I don't much enjoy the final big showdown at the end, especially when they're CGI-ified and you're not even watching real people fight, like in martial-arts movies (which I do continue to love). The battle of the men in the metal suits was easily for me the dullest part of the otherwise amusing Iron Man.

Director Michel Gondry  -- yes, the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- tries to mess around a little with the genre in The Green Hornet, but "mess" is sadly the operative word. The movie is an uneven jumble of comedy and the typical Nobility of the Superhero. The climactic fight scene might be set in a pretty cool environment, but it is so confusing and poorly choreographed that it isn't even fun on a kinetic gut level. Fortunately, the lighthearted and comic moments made this movie surprisingly likeable.

Seth Rogen, who co-wrote the screenplay, plays the title character, known by day as Britt Reid. Of course, he isn't the title character immediately -- like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne, he's a rich playboy who likes parties and girls and alcohol, although in a somewhat more blue-collar fashion (beer, not whiskey sours). When his dad the newspaper mogul (I didn't know we still had those) dies unexpectedly, Britt is lost until he stumbles upon the amazing Kato (Jay Chou), who fixed cars and made coffee for Britt's dad but turns out to be a man of many talents. One thing leads to another, and the next thing you know, they're fighting crime together as the Green Hornet.

Rogen is mostly charming as Britt, but the character has a mean streak at times that borders on the repellant. In one scene, he makes nasty remarks to the potential secretary he's interviewing, Lenore (Cameron Diaz), about her "advanced age." He tells her later it's a test to see if she can survive in the position, but it makes no sense whatsover, especially considering he has a little crush on her. Do twentysomething men make Cocoon cracks about the women they lust after? Unlikely. When Britt and Kato have a second-act falling-out that is the staple of romantic comedies, I mean buddy movies, that doesn't make much sense either. The script is laced with holes and anomalies that the actors simply can't overcome.

But speaking of charming, there's Christoph Waltz, purring his way through his role as crime boss Chudnofsky. I'm starting to realize Waltz is one of those actors I would enjoy watching in just about anything (thus the entirely gratuitous second photo in this review). The movie saddles his character with ridiculous mid-life crisis brooding I thought (wrongly) pointed to a plot twist that would have been more interesting and sensible than the decision he actually makes in the film. The Green Hornet has an odd attitude about age, with younger characters taunting the "old" ones, as though it's necessary to have reasons why actors over 30 are in this movie. The first character we see picking on Waltz for being "old" and out of touch is a cameo performance that raises our expectations a little too high for the comedy in this film.

Christophe Waltz in The Green Hornet

Part of the problem with The Green Hornet is that the tone is unclear. The opening sequence is a flashback to Britt's childhood, in which his father calls him a failure and in the ultimate punishment, rips the head of Britt's favorite superhero action figure. Is this scene poking fun at the standard childhood-of-the-superhero stereotype, in which the older character provides a good or scary role model? Ripping the head off the doll is funny but Britt's dad isn't, nor is he conveying some noble sentiment. He's downright mean -- and again, as in the scene where Britt interviews Lenore, it's a jarring meanness that makes very little sense and doesn't work in the movie at all. Even the gags are often terribly flat at times (a diaper? really?).

The relationship between Britt and Kato works beautifully, however -- so beautifully it almost goes beyond buddy-movie dynamics and into romance. The characters have to continually drop eye-rollingly obvious "I'm not gay" and "don't touch me" remarks so we don't suspect any hanky-panky behind the scenes. It makes it easy to understand why in Kevin Smith's proposed script for the movie, Kato was female. (Chou was great but I think that would be cool.) The movie is at its best when Rogen and Jay Chou are riffing off one another, and Cameron Diaz also fits in nicely with the duo to make a great threesome -- in fact, I wish her character had been brought into the Green Hornet secret early in the film and had more to do, because she's smarter than both of them put together.

The Green Hornet is a failure as a superhero movie, but it's a fascinating failure, a film that just when it's starting to grow unbelievably stupid or predictable suddenly shoots the audience something funny or clever to pull everyone back into the game. I suggest avoiding the 3D version -- parts of shots are annoyingly out of focus, and the only reason for the 3D seems to be a lot of flying glass and the fight scenes from Kato's point of view, which would be fine without the extra dimension. The retro-like costumes, some amusing performances and the best use of a printing press in contemporary film -- perhaps the last use of a printing press, although I hope not -- make The Green Hornet a fun if erratic diversion.