Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
February 2011


'The Green Hornet' aimlessly buzzes around our eyes and ears like a pest

The Green Hornet
Columbia Pictures
Director: Michel Gondry
Screenplay: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, based on the radio series created by George W. Trendle
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Edward James Olmos, Tom Wilkinson and David Harbour
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 59 minutes
(out of four)

Oh, what I wouldn't give to see what Stephen Chow would have done with The Green Hornet. I'll tell you what I would give: Every second of my life that I spent watching this version, that's what. And believe me, it would be no sacrifice.

Chow, the great filmmaker behind Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer, once had the directorial reins - and the role of Kato - before relinquishing both duties due to reported creative differences. Seeing Michel Gondry's adaptation of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's script can only leave me wondering what might have been. In its final incarnation, The Green Hornet is aggressively irritating, completely undisciplined, aimless, pointless, flabby and downright bad. At least Chow could have given it some . . . oh, I don't know, direction.

Here's the thing, though: I love Seth Rogen. From Freaks and Geeks to today, I've found him to be one of the most effortlessly effective actors working. His role in Knocked Up remains one of the great performances of the aughts, despite the fact that it fell into the Tom-Hanks-in-Big category of being so natural and effortless that no one really noticed it. And hey, Rogen co-wrote Superbad, too, so we know he's a multi-talented fellow.

Yet somehow, he is his own worst enemy in The Green Hornet. His character, Britt Reid - playboy heir to a newspaper mogul father's fortune by day, incognito vigilante by night - is Rogen unhinged, reminding us that even great actors need someone to help shape their performance, and the movie surrounding it. I don't invoke the name of Robin Williams lightly, but Rogen's Britt Reid is Robin Williams-esque. In that you just want the guy to calm down, take a deep breath, SHUT UP and leave us alone.

Nevermind that his sidekick/foil, Jay Chou (playing Kato) is such an unnatural actor that he doesn't give Rogen much to work off of. And nevermind that his lady friend/secretary, Lenore (Cameron Diaz), is given such lifeless obligatory scenes as to render her character (and her presence as a movie star) utterly useless.

This is a movie without an angle. It's another in a long (and continuing) line of crimefighter origin stories, and seems to have taken some cues from Iron Man except for the whole "actually having a point" thing.

As opposed to that film - or pretty much any origin film I can think of; even a crapfest like Daredevil - virtually nothing in The Green Hornet feels motivated. Like . . . at all. Why do Britt Reid and his trusty sidekick Kato decide to pose as villains in order to fight crime? Uh . . . ya got me. There are some daddy issues in there . . . a childhood preoccupation with a superhero action figure is lazily and unconvincingly thrown in during the opening scene . . . and, uh . . . well, the two of them get tipsy one night and try to stop a mugging on a whim . . . and, yeah, that's about it. In all honesty, the movie doesn't really know why, and doesn't care, either. It just knows there's supposed to be a story in there, so it takes whatever it can get and doesn't worry if it makes any sense or not.

Beyond that, despite stated claims about the pair's crimefighting convictions, I don't believe we ever see them saving or helping anyone other than themselves.

Using his newfound clout at The Daily Sentinel once his father dies, Britt manages to get himself - officially dubbed The Green Hornet during an editorial board brainstorming session that is not at all stupid and implausible - on the cover of the paper every day for things like, say, vandalizing a statue. This somehow turns the Green Hornet and his unnamed sidekick into quick media stars and, apparently, threatens the vast crime empire run by Los Angeles' chief supervillain, Chudnofsky (a completely wasted Christoph Waltz).

("Wasted" as in "not used to his full potential," not like "drunk.")

(Although he could have been drunk, too.)

The fact that the Green Hornet becomes such a prominent criminal figure so quickly, and for doing literally nothing that would actually be considered a major crime by anyone, could be a delightfully absurd, even satirical wrinkle. Instead, it's treated at face value - a mere diversionary tactic to move the plot forward. Which of course allows us to realize how idiotic it is.

At times it seems like the filmmakers wanted to go for something farcical and absurd, but their aesthetics don't support that intention. Even the film's best ideas (i.e. Chudnofsky's insecurities about his image as a villain - his name, the clothes he wears, the things people are saying about him) are never allowed to take shape. Where does that leave us? With a pseudo-superhero movie that has neither a good hero nor a good villain, a bromance between two annoying characters, an action film built on mediocre action setpieces and a satire that isn't quite sure what it's meant to be satirizing. In short, we're left with nothing.

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