The Green Hornet (2011) / Action-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, language, sensuality and drug content
Running time: 118 min.
Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Tom Wilkinson, David Harbour, Edward James Olmos, Edward Furlong
Cameo: James Franco
Director: Michel Gondry
Screenplay: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg (based on the radio series by George W. Trendle)
Review published March 6, 2011
Green Hornet's BUZZ? Bumbled Bee.
Another iteration of the popular character that originated from radio serials in the 1930s, star and co-scripter Seth Rogen (Observe and Report, Zack and Miri) ups the comedy quotient to deliver a wildly uneven popcorn flick that doesn't know when to be funny enough, while delivering action that goes far above and beyond what's called for. Just as other films of its ilk (The Phantom, The Shadow), the updating of the material involves keeping the core of what makes the Green Hornet the Green Hornet, while stuffing it into a modern-day action and comedy style. The effect? Both cancel each other out, as it plays as too trite from inception, then too hip to carry the weight of its old-fashioned premise. Instead of the Batman Begins reboot, the movie looks at its source material, not with homage and reinvention in mind, but as a lazy platform for comedic material and glass-shattering explosions.
A svelte Rogen stars as Britt Reid, the hard-partying, freeloading playboy son of a mega-bucks media magnate (Wilkinson, Michael Clayton) in Los Angeles who finds his calling in life when his father dies mysteriously (reportedly a bee sting, which Britt pays homage to with his alter ego name) by becoming the head of his father's company by day, while at night, he's a costumed vigilante, righting wrongs and busting heads. Befriending his father's mechanic, Kato (Chou, Initial D) whom he dubs a "Swiss army knife" to describe Kato's many talents which includes fixing custom cars, creating fantastic weapons, martial arts combat, and making a fabulous cup of coffee, he sets about creating a public persona on the streets then writing about himself as a mythical villain in the paper the next day. With the help of Reid's resourceful secretary, Lenore Case (Diaz, Knight and Day), the duo set about taking down the nefarious criminal mastermind Benjamin Chudnofsky (Waltz, Inglourious Basterds), who in turn is trying to take them down as rivals.
The big knock on The Green Hornet is that of excess. It's not that it doesn't deliver action when appropriate, it's that, when it does, it goes on far too long. The last half hour of the film, which is far too lengthy for an exciting action climax for a build-up this slight, keeps one-upping itself in terms of on-screen destruction-derby carnage, as no window is left unbroken, no table or chair left standing upright, and no car doesn't get completely demolished in its cataclysmic approach. Director Gondry (Be Kind Rewind, Eternal Sunshine) films the fight scenes with some attempt at visual flair, particularly when showcasing Kato's mindset, as he can predict targets as he fights at high speed while others seem to move in slow motion. It might be exciting if Sherlock Holmes hadn't employed nearly the identical technique.
The oft-ad-libbed bromance interplay between big buffoon Britt and quietly confident Kato provides nearly all of the film's fun, and when it's in that mode, which it is for many of the early scenes, there is a chemistry that works well enough that even a halfway decent main story could have made it a passable guilty pleasure. Some of the film's more amusing notions are that, while played in the media as the opposite, it's actually Kato who is the hero, while the Green Hornet is the sidekick. Unfortunately, it's not nearly enough, as the main story is DOA, and it has a villain in Chudnofsky that is not interesting, amusing, menacing, or even the least bit adequate -- he's mostly a detraction in both the comedy and the overall momentum of the action, waving around a two-barreled pistol as some sort of sight gag that never develops. (Reportedly, Waltz stepped in at the last minute after Nicolas Cage dropped out in early production). Diaz is just a pretty face and name recognition just to have one. Then the estimated $120 million budget comes into effect and Gondry films his action scenes as if he's obligated to make sure to spend every penny on an endless array of grandiose pyrotechnics.
The Green Hornet is just a copycat idea with little more involved than coming up with marketability to sell it. That they would convert the film to 3D in post production is just another indication of their intent to catch a trend at whatever cost. It tries to deliver just enough action and laughs to entertain, but it's a rare viewer who will think that Gondry got the mix just right. It's not made by fans -- one suspects that Rogen and frequent collaborator Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express) didn't have much knowledge of the history of the character, so they just concentrated on things they thought would be fun to see on the screen for modern action-comedy fans. For true-blue Green Hornet fans, there isn't a great deal of homage, and one might even claim that they make fun of the premise much more so than they hold reverence. With so many comic book properties already hitting the screen, not to mention ones very similar in premise, it just doesn't differentiate itself enough to regard the film as much more than a pedestrian effort. It stung-k.
©2011 Vince Leo