Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Frank Review of "The Green Hornet" (2011)

The Short Version? Playboy turns moonlighting vigilante with kick ass partner.
What Is It? Super-hero comedy
Who Is In It? The Knocked-Up guy, Princess Fiona, the Taiwanese Justin Timberlake, Col. Hans Landa, Admiral Adama, John Connor
Should I See It? Yes

Based on my having read a number of unflattering reviews of The Green Hornet, I'm left asking what the fuck people expected out of this film? The character's origins are clearly based on the pulp vigilantism of such box office heavyweights as The Shadow and Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. However the Hornet's heyday was actually as a radio drama, that thing that existed before television that your parent's parents listened to. There was a failed attempt to cash in on Batmania in the 1960s with a short-lived television series. Most recently, fourth rate comic publishers like Now Comics, Moonstone and Dynamite have been desperate enough to claw at credibility with this license. The Green Hornet makes the Phantom look like Batman, so cut it some slack for chrissakes.

Having gotten that off my chest, can I just say that I enjoyed The Green Hornet better than pretty much every Marvel of DC Comics adaptation that comes readily to mind. Most of those flicks are weighted down with familiar mythology, heroic arcs, thwarted expectations, uneven casting and are often just plain dullsville. The Green Hornet has much more in common with last year's rollicking Kick-Ass, in that its primary goal is to have a good time playing dress up when not taking the piss out of this ridiculous genre. However, I actually prefer Hornet, because despite (or perhaps because of) the lack of 11-year-old schoolgirl assassins who call grown men cunts, Hornet feels more adult and believable.

Seth Rogen plays the lead character of Seth Rogen under a different name with Tom Wilkinson as his mean old newspaper tycoon dad. Unlike that neuter boy Bruce Wayne, Rogen uses his daddy's money to party in style with Tony Stark's cast-offs. Once Tom Wilkinson dies, Seth Rogen pretends to be all bummed out about it, although his father was a dick, and assumes a semblance of responsibility. Seth Rogen ends up palling around with his pop's mechanic, Kato. Jay Chou plays Kato, although in the time honored Hollywood tradition of using Asian cinema stars in action movies, Chou's role mostly consists of reciting English language lines phonetically and busting martial arts moves. Seth Rogen wants to do something meaningful with his character's life, but he's not terribly bright or athletic. Kato is an all around bad mother fucker and inventor, but without a formal education and functional application for his skills, his prospects outside Starbucks look dim. However, if Seth Rogen has the money and inclination to play super-hero, why not humor him, eh?

This gets back to why I find this movie a lot more realistic than most super-hero flicks. Shit like Spider-Man goes out of its way to try to explain fantasy stuff in real world terms, while Batman and Superman are all-around gods with flesh penises. Doesn't it make more sense for some douchebag with too much money and too little sense hiring someone to shepherd him through adventures? Of course it's one thing to say it and another to get it done, so reasonable if still somewhat deluded logic is applied to how to actually perform super-heroics. Instead of questioning why the filmmakers wasted your time with some bullshit rational any asshole could pick apart, you're in your seat kind of seeing how that might work.

Cameron Diaz plays the heroes' mutual love interest Lenore Case, and is very much the Pepper Potts of the piece. Diaz's critics may moan about her presence, but the film works in part because of the necessity of her role, even if the love triangle represents the most grating sections of the film. Diaz is a surprisingly good sport when the joke is almost metatextually on her personally, and you might be relieved to learn that her journey doesn't pan out in quite the way you might assume from the onset.

Christoph Waltz brings some good game following his heat from the vastly overrated Inglourious Basterds, but aside from a fun introductory sequence where James Franco kills in a cameo, Chudnovsky has nothing on Kick-Ass' Frank D'Amico. In fact, there is a lot of wasted talent here, with Edward James Olmos coming immediately to mind as playing a role that in no way requires his gravitas. Still, it doesn't hurt the movie to have plenty of good people around to play off, even in its Rogen and Chou's weird anti-chemistry that drives the movie. They work because they kind of don't work, like Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in Rush Hour.

The same could be said of director Michel Gondry and the material. Gondry is known for novel animated music videos and twee romantic dramas, so he doesn't subscribe to the common wisdom of how to shoot action sequences. Instead of shitty jump cuts or unsteadycam, the action is always clear and amazing to look at. Kato-Vision is a stripped down and less intrusive variation on The Matrix's iconic "bullet time," but influences as diverse as Brian De Palma and The Benny Hill Show weigh in on other sequences. Old and new techniques come together to sell the action and the comedy as only a few greats (Landis, Donner) have ever managed to accomplish.

There's still a fair share of misfires, tonal inconsistencies, and obvious edits hitting the cutting room floor, but the movie is fun because it's a messy beast, rather than the hyper-calculated crapfest super-hero movies usually amount to. If you enjoyed Pineapple Express' modern pothead take on '80s buddy flicks, this here's your same flavor applied to the long underwear set.

1 comment:

Lazarus Lupin said...

A nice review. You have an even handed and honest style i appreciate. Good on ya.

Lazarus Lupin
art and review


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