January 13, 2011

Green Hornet, The

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Green Hornet, The

ADVENTURE/COMEDY:

United States, 2011

U.S. Release Date:

2011-01-14

Running Length:

1:48

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Tom Wilkinson, Christoph Waltz, David Harbour, Edward James Olmos

Director:

Michael Gondry

Screenplay:

Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, based on the radio series by George W. Trendle

Cinematography:

John Schwartzman

Music:

James Newton Howard

U.S. Distributor:

Columbia Pictures

Subtitles:

none


Seen in standard (non-IMAX) 3-D.

After several years of minimal screen presence, superheroes are coming back to multiplexes in 2011 with a vengeance. First out of the starting gate is Michael Gondry's re-imagination of The Green Hornet, a property that has been kicking around since the 1930s, when it was a radio mainstay. Its recent journey to theaters, however, has been fraught with director changes, script re-writes, and recasting. It is perhaps no surprise, therefore (especially given the January release date), that The Green Hornet doesn't impress. Even as a mindless diversion, it's weak. In fact, it's less of a superhero movie than a vehicle for its lead actor, Seth Rogen, who might have been better advised not to resurrect The Green Hornet in his own image.

The Green Hornet falls into the "comedy" end of the superhero spectrum, about as far from The Dark Knight as one can get and still claim membership in the same genre. Yet it lacks the wit and darkly satirical edge one finds in efforts like Kick-Ass, which at least try to be something more interesting than run-of-the-mill action films with a couple of jokes tossed in. To make matters worse, The Green Hornet is a member of that most uninteresting of breeds: the origin story. Movies offering tales of superhero beginnings don't have to be uninspired and perfunctory - consider Batman Begins and Iron Man, for example - but this one is. The film might have been more engrossing had it not felt obligated to spend half its running time telling us the story of The Green Hornet's birth - a narrative to which the term "overfamiliar" doesn't do justice.

After going through the motions of telling how rich kid Britt Reid (Rogen) and his sidekick Kato (Jay Chou) decide to become masked superheroes posing as criminals, The Green Hornet sets up a simple confrontation: Reid and Kato against dirty District Attorney Scanlon (David Harbour) and criminal boss Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz). Of course, since the police believe The Green Hornet is a villain, they're out to get him, as well. Aside from Kato, Reid's only ally is his secretary, Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), who is unaware of his secret until late in the proceedings. Eventually, Reid and Chudnofsky square off with predictable results.

Most of The Green Hornet feels recycled. There's not much originality in it, even when it comes to Gondry's noted visual flair. Attempts to enliven fight scenes come across as hybrids of The Matrix and Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, and the Dick Tracy-like obsession with the "cool" look of things causes any fleeting tension to evaporate. Of course, with such poorly realized characters, it would be difficult to make us care how they escape from the various scrapes in which they find themselves. Some of their ways out are patently ludicrous, but I guess that's in keeping with the "comedy" element of the movie. We laugh at how stupid it all is.

Despite having co-written the screenplay with himself in mind, Rogen is miscast. It's probably stating the obvious to observe that the actor's range is limited and this appears to be outside of his comfort zone. There's no attempt to bring out a character; we're watching Seth Rogen in a mask. And at times he's uncomfortably close to the asshole Rogen played in Observe and Report. Jay Chou fares better as Kato, although his part demands more physicality than general acting ability. He has presence, which is important, but shows no chemistry whatsoever with Rogen, which dispels the critical dynamic duo aspect. Curiously, the "boys will be boys" tussle between the two reminded me of another Cato - the one from The Pink Panther movies. When Jay Chou and Seth Rogen go at it, I flashed back to Burk Kwouk and Peter Sellers. I'm reasonably certain that was not Gondry's intention. Cameron Diaz is in the movie, although she serves no purpose beyond looking sunny. And if this is how Christoph Waltz chooses to wield the power of his Best Supporting Actor Oscar, then he's headed down the winding dead end known as Cuba Gooding Jr. Drive.

A comment about the useless 3-D is warranted. The issue here is not eye strain or blurred action but the complete pointlessness of releasing The Green Hornet in 3-D. Significant portions of the film can be watched without the glasses (there are only little things going on in the background) and, when the 3-D is fully employed, it's like watching a Viewmaster slide, with different clearly delineated planes. The only plausible explanation for releasing The Green Hornet in 3-D is greed. Any gain to the viewer is negligible but the increase in revenue from surcharges is significant.

Although The Green Hornet is a B-grade superhero, this cinematic treatment lowers him into the dregs with the likes of The Punisher, Ghost Rider, and Elektra. Many long-time fans who treasure the radio adventures of the character will be insulted or horrified by what Seth Rogen and Michael Gondry have done. Those without a past affection won't be moved to care. The Green Hornet is mediocre, forgettable filmmaking that, regardless of how many dimensions it is seen in, is more likely to favor catatonia over concentration as the mindless repetition of action clichés exceeds the point of saturation.

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