Phil on Film Index

Friday, January 14, 2011

Review - The Green Hornet

Superheroes take themselves far too seriously these days. So often we find them brooding alone, contemplating the great responsibility that their great power has burdened them with, and maybe a film like The Green Hornet is exactly what we need to redress the balance. With Seth Rogen taking the central role in a film that he co-wrote with fellow Superbad screenwriter Evan Goldberg, this was never going to be anything but a comical venture; a film that's unafraid of embracing the fun side of crimefighting. It intrigues for other reasons too, most notably the presence of Michel Gondry, a director known for his ability to infuse magic into his pictures with ingenious handcrafted effects. If nothing else, the team behind The Green Hornet promises us something different in a genre that desperately needs it.

The film occasionally does feel like something different too, but the moments in which we can sense Gondry's inspiration taking hold of the picture are sadly few and far between, and while there's some fun to be found here, it's only fleeting. At two hours, The Green Hornet eventually feels like an interminable comedy sketch with no punchline, and the screenplay cooked up by Rogen and Goldberg is horribly exposed at such an unnecessary duration. Having only the vaguest notion of The Green Hornet as a TV series, I'm not sure how faithful this film is to the original style and tone of the character, but the joke in Rogen's version is that the eponymous hero is not actually very heroic at all.

Rogen plays Britt Reid, the son of a newspaper tycoon (Tom Wilkinson), who has no interest in the family business, instead enjoying a life of feckless hedonism. After his father has died, Britt becomes acquainted with Kato (Jay Chou) – an absurdly skilled mechanic who also happens to be a deadly fighting machine (plus he makes a mean cup of coffee) – and after some laborious exposition, they decide to team up as a crime-fighting duo. The chemistry between Rogen and Chou (a pop star in his native Taiwan) is perhaps the film's biggest asset. Rogen is the loudmouthed dope who cowers during confrontations but hogs the glory nonetheless, while Chou is the quiet, focused sidekick who actually gets the job done, and the pair have a few funny scenes together in between the explosive action sequences. When there is some fighting to be done, we are treated to the sight of Kato-vision, one of the film's more imaginative gimmicks, in which the action slows down while Kato analyses the imminent danger before springing into action.

That feels like a Gondry touch. Another example of the director's inventiveness can be found in a superbly orchestrated split-screen sequence, but such opportunities are limited. I guess it's not easy for an idiosyncratic filmmaker to impose his personality on a blockbuster budgeted somewhere north of $100 million, and I couldn't help wishing he had simply been handed a fraction of the budget and given free rein to put his own spin on the superhero genre, Be Kind Rewind-style. Instead, The Green Hornet feels duty-bound to deliver the incomprehensible plotting, meaningless deaths and stock characters we expect in a film like this. Those stock characters include a bent DA (David Harbour) and a vapid female character (Cameron Diaz, barely there), while Christoph Waltz seems unsure of how exactly to play the villainous Chudnofsky. He's a little bit camp and a little bit menacing, but he lacks any sort of presence.

Nothing in The Green Hornet really coheres. The film occasionally hits the mark in a "throw enough shit at a wall and some of it will stick" kind of way, but generally it's a mess that finally outstays its welcome in the relentlessly loud climactic twenty minutes. It's also pretty ugly at times, thanks to the astonishingly shoddy 3D post-conversion that makes the image blurry and murky, and makes it appear as if the characters are all existing on different planes of action. Not for the first time, I left a 3D screening wishing I had seen the film in just two dimensions. It wouldn't have made The Green Hornet any better, but it might have made it marginally more watchable, at least.