Someone must have thought it would be a good idea to do a comedic version of the classic serial ‘The Green Hornet’ (the conceit was originally Kevin Smith’s, when he was briefly in control of the property) with the guys behind ‘Superbad‘ and ‘Pineapple Express‘ writing and starring, and music video whiz Michel Gondry directing. With this combination, the movie should have a singularly gonzo sensibility. It should be a breath of fresh air in the already stale superhero genre. Except, well, things didn’t go exactly as planned. Or maybe they did.
The point is that ‘The Green Hornet’ is a waste of everyone’s considerable time and talent. It’s a groan-inducing bore almost from the very beginning. All of the promise that has been trumpeted – that it’s a sly takedown of the genre and a bold, fresh reinvention of it – has been greatly exaggerated to the point that it’s pretty much just a bunch of lies. This is another boring superhero movie. Except this one is louder and more frantic. Oh boy.
As scripted by Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg, Britt Reid (played by Rogen) is a spoiled brat who dreams of being a superhero, were it not for the dickishness of his father (Tom Wilkinson), who’s a prominent newspaper magnate. Britt grows up to be a boozing, oafish loser (the kind Rogen specializes in). But after his father dies from an apparent bee sting, Britt feels the call to action, alongside his father’s mechanic and espresso maven Kato (Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou). They’re heroes posing as villains.
It’s a dopey idea made even dopier by slack execution. The script is beyond messy, with only the most marginal point-A-to-point-B narrative to keep things chugging along. A lot of the exposition is either disgorged via awful dialogue or added in later via clumsy ADR. (There’s a lot of “That’s the building we’re looking for!”, or “There he is!”, and so on).
Christoph Waltz, fresh from his Oscar winning role in ‘Inglourious Basterds‘, shows up to play an over-the-hill villain named Chudnofsky who dreams of synthesizing the cities’ crime syndicates into one giant mob, run by him. It’s silly, for sure. He carries around a double-barreled gun, and at some point decides that he wants to be a supervillain named “Bloodnofsky.” Some interesting thematic parallels could have been drawn between the aging villain bordering on irrelevance and the hero who’s found himself in control of a newspaper, an entire industry that’s bordering on a similar irrelevance. But no such luck. Why engage in stuff like that when you can have Seth Rogen riffing for five minutes on meaningless misogynistic bullshit?
With the narrative so limp, the script so bad (I haven’t even gotten to poor Cameron Diaz, who shows up as Rogen’s temporary secretary and then becomes involved in the plot in ways that still seem foggy to me), and the characters so flat, much of the weight of the film falls to Gondry. The director is a known visual stylist, mostly for his music videos for people like Daft Punk and The White Stripes. His feature film output is spotty at best. He has one masterpiece under his belt (‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind‘), but most are forgettable trifles (‘Human Nature’, ‘The Science of Sleep’, ‘Be Kind Rewind‘). My second favorite film of his would probably be the concert documentary ‘Dave Chapelle’s Block Party’, which is fitting because it easily aligns itself with his music video output. Here, he’s forced to squeeze in flourishes that feel more trite than innovative, like he’s desperate for someone to recognize above the studio din that this is his movie, damn it.
Much has been made of “Kato vision,” in which Kato’s heart starts pumping in action sequences, and so people slow down and speed up accordingly. In the first fight, this is kind of nifty. He kicks a guy over a car, but in “Kato vision,” the car expands to five cars that the guy goes toppling over. Sadly, the effect isn’t used with any regularity or power. (It’s even duller in the post-converted 3D I saw the film in.) Other Gondry-esque touches, like a flashback sequence where characters appear to be made of paper cut outs, feel even more forced and annoying. There’s nothing really there to connect with – not emotionally, not thematically, and not through the filmmaking. ‘The Green Hornet’ tries to be something new and inventive, but it’s just lumpy and repetitive.