Friday, January 14, 2011

The Green Hornet for Dummies

Director Michel Gondry and star/co-writer Seth Rogen set out to do their version of the Green Hornet. They've succeeded. This is unlike any Green Hornet I've seen, and probably as far removed from my idea of who these characters are as could be done and still title the film The Green Hornet. In fact, the main character is so unrecognizable you have to wonder why even use the Green Hornet characters instead of simply making an original film.

The Green Hornet debuted on radio in the 1930's alongside other popular programs such as The Lone Ranger and The Shadow. Since then the character has bounced around comics, low budget movie serials, and, most notably, the 60's television show starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee.

Seth Rogen's dumbed-down concept of the character has a few key differences to what's come before. Britt Reid (Rogen) is no longer the brilliant media mogul taking on the underworld. In Rogen's version he's a spoiled rich kid who has squandered his life and is faced with the insurmountable task of taking on his father's (Tom Wilkinson) newspaper after his death. The whole fighting crime thing is more a drunken brainstorm than any sense of responsibility or wish for justice.

Rogen's Reid is, to put it kindly, a horse's ass. Rogen loves unlikable characters and his script pulls no punches in making him nearly impossible to root for. Reid is a loser, without charm, skills, or brains, who has been handed everything he's whole life - including his new late night career which is made possible by the guy (Jay Chou) who makes his coffee in the morning and turns out to be a genius mechanic and martial arts expert (also possibly a Terminator).

Cameron Diaz has a small but thankless role in the movie as Reid's new secretary who proves to be the brains of the Green Hornet without realizing it. She spends most of the movie deflecting the unwanted advances from both her clueless boss and his executive assistant.

The most entertaining characters of the movie turn out to be the villains. Christoph Waltz steals the movie as the old school crime boss who's not ready for the pop culture digital age. There are also a couple clever cameos by Edward Furlong and James Franco as other gangsters.

I've spent quite a bit of time telling you what's wrong with the movie, but that doesn't mean there aren't positives to take away. The film is fun, and at times entertaining. There are several big laughs (my favorite centering around the Hornet's gas gun), and one impressive action sequence involving the Black Beauty which occurs during the film's climax. And the 3D, though not great, does enhance the film. As a dumb action flick I've certainly seen far worse.

And this version of The Green Hornet is dumb, almost offensively so. There's even a moment where the movie stops for several moments and spells out the entire plot to any member of the audience that's given up caring by that point. However, like much of the movie, the bit is saved by an amusing joke at the end. There are plenty of cheap yucks to be had at the expense of our dimwitted protagonists and several trademark touches by Gondry to spice up a rather uninspired plot.

For a character like The Green Hornet just getting on film is something of a success, I just wish the hero was a little more recognizable and the film didn't feel so much like a throwaway Rogen comedy given a huge budget for special effects. Much like Frank Miller's The Spirit, this feels like a big budget B-movie misstep not quite as good as The Shadow or The Phantom.

Those without any emotional tie to the character, and who enjoy Will Ferrell style comedies (which this definitely feels like), may enjoy the film more than I did. Even with my issues, I'm glad I saw this version of The Green Hornet. I'm just not sure I ever need to see it again.

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