Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Green Hornet

"Girls Are a Drag, Kato.  Thank God We've Got Each Other." 

"The Green Hornet" was a popular radio series in the 40's, and became a brief second tier in ABC-TV's "superhero" programming after the success of the Adam West "Batman" television show.  Unlike the campy "Batman," "The Green Hornet" played it somewhat straight, albeit with the gleaming technology, out-there set decoration...and another fabulous George Barris car design.   It also featured Bruce Lee, as Kato, Britt Reid's formidable kung-fu kicking house-boy, a couple of years before forsaking Hollywood for Hong Kong super-stardom.

When it was announced that Seth Rogen would be portraying "The Hornet" (as bad an idea, really, as when Jack Black was supposed to star in Green Lantern), I thought this could not come to any good.  "The Green Hornet" was a distant lineage of "The Lone Ranger," in the continuity, and Rogen, known for playing ape-neck every-slobs, didn't seem to fit the bill (I couldn't even imagine Rogen throwing a punch!).  Compounding the pre-release jitters, the movie was planned to be presented, rather unnecessarily, in 3-D, was delayed until after the Christmas crunch, and in the last couple months, the car has increasingly seemed to be the focus of the promotion.  The Green Hornet appeared to be a victim of bad buzz, but cheerily trumpeted its excellence ("dude") at the top of its lungs—par-tay!  The previews looked semi-amusing, so one walked in with a certain cock-eyed optimism.

It is abysmal.  Starting out with a deadly serious "origin" episode  (de rigueur for all superhero movies, apparently*) where Daddy Reid (Tom Wilkinson) publisher of the "The Daily Sentinel" rips the head off young son Britt's superhero doll, traumatizing him,** the movie goes off-kilter fast.  Directed by Michel Gondry (!!), the film soon settles into a uncomic romp with guns, gadgets, and all the cool things that will make the frat-boys spit out their beer in gawping appreciation: rock-themed fights, CSI-orifice-cams, gratuitous babes, "Matrix" slo-mo's, while generally following the "key-ingredient" rules of movie-making from Sweet Liberty.***  Ho-hum.  But, the main problem is the lead character.  I like Rogen.  I think he's very talented and, on occasion, very funny.  Not here.  As played (and written with pal Evan Goldberg) by Rogen, Britt Reid's Green Hornet is a whining ADD cretin, with the slimmest, and dumbest, of character motivations.  Rogen's Reid can't keep his mouth shut,**** no matter how inane his attitude or stupid his comment—he is entitlement-dumb, in marked contrast to the parade of millionaire-geniuses who inexplicably become "mystery men" in the genre.  Indeed, he is so dependent on Kato (Jay Chou) for...everything...that you wonder why the kid from Shanghai***** doesn't insist on up-ending the billing (Kato with Hornet, the boy-doofus) and keep Reid corralled with a nunchuck leash.

The yin and yang of stupidity/competence continues throughout.  Questions begin arising.  Why does their super-slick, weapons-festooned car, "The Black Beauty" have rotating license plates, when it has "hornet" emblems all over it—even the gas-cap—making it hopelessly identifiable?  Why does The Green Hornet hand out business cards at the scene of his bust-ups...with his internet address and e-mail account?  Why does Reid talk about arming The Black Beauty out loud, sitting in a pool of accessory-chicks?

Why doesn't Kato just kick the green-snot out of Reid and be done with him?******

As with the series, Kato is the coolest character.  Bruce Lee (who is given a brief homage) was the best thing about "The Green Hornet" show and one anticipated his fight scenes that rose, with considerable hang-time, above the common whiffed fisticuffs of television stunt-men.  This Kato builds cars, seemingly from scratch, is an acrobatic master, martial artist, engineer and draughtsman...and...can make the perfect cup of coffee.  Hmmm.  Chou doesn't have much emotional range, but is loose enough that he can carry off the comedy, and still look like he knows business.  However, the relationship between Reid and Kato is so skewed in the millionaire's favor (for no apparent reason) that the character comes off a bit as his "bitch," (which he calls him at one point—Kato is belittled constantly, short of racial slurs).  And Rogen and Goldberg throw in a lot of unsubtle "bro-mance" references in case we miss the point.

And, the whole thing is a waste.  The final set-piece is an exercise in over-the-top property destruction that reminds one of an unfunny version of the mall-destruction chase in The Blues Brothers.  Good actors are squandered—not just Wilkinson, but also Christoph Waltz, who can't seen to decide if he's playing comedy or drama, Cameron Diaz in a "girlfriend" role, who tries to ad-lib with the big boys, but about the second line in a string says something inane, and Edward James Olmos, who looks dyspeptic every time he's on camera (his character is supposed to be frustrated, but I couldn't help but think he might be thinking about strangling his agent: "Hey, don't worry, Eddie, you thought "Battlestar Galactica" was a bad idea, too!")

The final segment begins with The Hornet saying "Everything we've done to this moment is complete and utter crap."  Truer words...

What is most upsetting is to see a director like Michael Gondry, whose past efforts have included Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—a favorite of mine—and Be Kind Rewind—which isn't—continue a Shamalamyan decline in quality of work.  This thing is a mess, and one can only wonder how cross-eyed it would make one in 3-D.  I might actually worry about some form of brain-damage resulting from viewing this film.

Don't get stung.  The Green Hornet is a Waste of Time.

Van Williams and Bruce Lee: In Memory, Still Green

* There was a preview of Thor in the promo-clusters before the show, and it appears to be the same story, but in Asgard—daddy issues are everwhere.

** .....o-kaaaay.

*** Those are: 1.) Rebellion against authority; 2.) Violence; 3.) Nudity.  I confess, of the venerable cliches, I didn't hear a "Wilhelm" scream, see a vegetable cart being overturned in a car-chase, but, "The Brother" does "Get It First."

**** There's a lot of post-production voice-over inserts to wedge in one...more...laugh-line, usually inane.  But, they're clumsy...and it feels like it's an attempt to go for a laugh so the audience doesn't think for very long.

***** Kato has always been, traditionally, Japanese...except for that time when he became Filipino after December 7th, 1941.

****** At one point in the film, he does.  But Rogen gets in enough licks, that it reminded me of the nadir of the "Green Hornet" the cross-over with the "Batman" show, when Bruce Lee (Kato) was fought to a stand-still with Burt Ward (Robin, the Boy Wonder).  As if...  Supposedly, Lee was a bit miffed at that scenario.  And, for some reason, Kato is given a weakness that's condescending, not unlike how Jet Li was treated in The Expendables.

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