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Monday, January 10, 2011

‘The Green Hornet’ Strikes, But It’s Not Quite A Thrilling Adventure

The Green Hornet:  3 out of 5 Stars
Brit Reid:  Think about this Kato.  I haven’t done anything good my whole life.  We’ve been wasting our potential.  You a little bit more than me.  This city needs our help.  We could be heroes.
When it was announced that Seth Rogen would be starring as the Green Hornet, many first asked, “Wait, who’s the Green Hornet?”  The second thing asked was, “So he’s kind of like The Shadow…wait, who’s The Shadow?”  But finally, people asked, “Wait, Seth Rogen is going to play a superhero?”  And so he was, and now, some time later, the time of The Green Hornet is finally upon us.  After many months of delays, different directors, cast members, and a post-conversion to 3D, the film stands as a potential blockbuster (even with its January release date).  Fortunately, I had fun with this film overall.  Unfortunately, I would simply describe it as “ok”.  Despite the many different talents involved, the results of this movie were pretty mixed.  While the film has its action moments and is quite humorous, the film moves pretty slow and only really finds its grove in the third act.

There will be many familiar with the Green Hornet as a character from the past through his various incarnations, such as his old serialized radio days, the 60s TV series (which is what brought Bruce Lee to the attention of many in America (he played Kato)), or the assorted comic book adaptations.  This new film is an origin story for the character, set in modern times.  Rogen stars as Brit Reid, the slacker son of a millionaire newspaper mogul, James Reid (Tom Wilkinson).  While Reid Sr. believes his son to be making nothing of himself, he does what he can to write about the corruption of the city.  James then dies of a mysterious bee sting.  With mixed feelings, Brit calls on his father’s mechanic/chauffeur, Kato (played by Taiwanese pop sensation Jay Chou), who accompanies him one night to cause some mischief, only to have them both happen to save some innocent people and fight off some muggers.  These actions lead to Brit deciding that he and Kato should become vigilantes.
Brit Reid: Kato, I think this is the greatest moment of my entire life.
Kato:  I know, mine too.
Since Brit is now in charge of his father’s newspaper, which is co-run by his father’s former partner, played by Edward James Olmos (of all people), he decides that in order to spread the word on this new crime fighter (who Kato names “The Green Hornet”), the articles should focus on him, painting him as a criminal on the rise.  Brit’s plan, based on ideas he gets from his new secretary, Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), is to have the Green Hornet portrayed as a bad guy, so he can find other bad guys and take them down for the good of the city.  It also helps that Kato is an expert at designing newfangled contraptions for the two of them to use, such as their car:  The Black Beauty, a black Chrysler Imperial equipped with rockets and machine guns; a gas gun; and Kato’s own martial arts prowess.


These actions are all well and good in the eyes of Brit and Kato, but it will bring them nothing but trouble down the road, as the Los Angeles crime boss, Chudnofsky (played by Inglourious Basterds Oscar winner Christoph Waltz) has done everything to become the biggest criminal element in the city, and will stop at nothing to maintain that position and be taken seriously (he has serious self esteem issues).
Chudnofsky:  I want the head of the Green Hornet, and I want it tonight!
The film was written by Rogen and his writing partner Even Goldberg.  The two previously collaborated on Superbad and Pineapple Express together, but now set their sights higher to a big budget, superhero movie.  Adding to this madness, along with the great supporting cast that this film boasts, you have Michel Gondry serving as director.  Gondry previously made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind, among other features, so it would seem that his unique visual sense could serve to make this an intriguing take on the genre.  Unfortunately, it would seem that this movie either suffered from having too many cooks in the kitchen or too much pressure to conform to a standard model of filmmaking.


The initial trailer for this film had me thinking that Sony Pictures did not want to show off the more bizarre elements that would be present in the film, as everything made the film seem like a fairly standard superhero movie, but I did not shake that feeling while watching the final product.  With the exception of a lot of what comes out of the final act of the film (which I will get to), the whole thing came off as a conventional version of this movie, with little else to make it feel more original.  A restrained, Gondry-directed film just doesn’t feel too ambitious.


Beyond how conventional it feels, the biggest problem for me was the film’s pacing.  Given the writing credits I mentioned, one would think the film could keep things moving, fun, and funny.  Unfortunately, the humor just doesn’t come that quickly.  While the plot is engaging enough, it is, as I mentioned, nothing very new to be that compelling.  There are early moments in the film where Brit is throwing out a whole bunch of ideas that he thinks sound great for how to deal with The Green Hornet; what types of gadgets he has; how he’ll deal with enemies; etc., and that is how the film feels, like a bunch of ideas that are tossed out there, but don’t all stick well enough.  We get things like The Black Beauty, Kato’s fighting skills, and a lot of one-liners, but it seemed to be obviously lacking in its build up to the end.
Brit Reid:  How come I’m the only one with a gun?
Kato:  Because you don’t have fighting experience.
Now with all of that being said, there are a lot of things that do work for me in this film and provide me reason enough to recommend it overall, even if it is not a strong recommendation.  I have brought up the third act a lot, and it is because this is where I felt the movie came together in delivering exactly what it wanted to be.  It is basically a giant action scene full of car chases, Kato fights, Rogen’s humor, and even some zany direction moments from Gondry.  If the whole movie had the same feel as the last 20 or so minutes, I would have loved the film much more overall.  I also really enjoyed Jay Chou as Kato.  For an actor new to American films, who is clearly not great with English, he did a fine job at being funny and capable in the action sequences.  The best thing in this movie though, in my opinion, was Christoph Waltz as the villain, Chudnofsky.  I love the idea of this actor choosing this film to be his next project, following his Oscar win.  He is hilarious and vicious in this role, obsessed with having the appropriate style and clothing for being the most feared and even equips himself with a homemade double-barreled handgun, which is both ridiculous and awesome.  I would watch the Chudnofsky prequel movie.


For a while, this film was supposed to be directed by Stephen Chow (of Kung-Fu Hustle fame), who would have also played Kato.  This was a film that I really wanted to see (it also had Nic Cage as the villain).  Alas, that did not work out.  While the final results were mixed, I still did enjoy the film overall.  Given that January has very little to offer theatrically, you could certainly see worse movies.  There are a lot of fun bits in this film, especially with the factors I mentioned in the previous paragraph.  If this movie does manage to become a hit, I can only hope that the next installment is more ambitious and delivers less of a mild sting than this film did.
Brit Reid:  Kato, I want you to take my hand and come with me on this adventure.
Kato:  I will go with you, but I don’t want to touch you.
Brit Reid:  Ok, you don’t have to take my hand, but will you come with me on this adventure?
Final note regarding the 3D:  The film was converted to this format (supposedly the reason for the delay of the film) and while it is one of the better conversion jobs I have seen, the film does not need to be seen this way (it is fake 3D after all).  That being said, watching Kato use his skills, I can see why the choice was made.


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