Sunday, February 6, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: The Green Hornet

THE GREEN HORNET-- 2 STARS

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Internet Movie Database

The tough thing about every comic book or superhero film seems to be the casting.  Thanks to the iconic images created over the years by amazing artists in comics, it becomes difficult for die-hard fans to picture certain people in the roles of their heroes.  It's as if they have a specific image in their head that no actor is ever good enough for, once their beloved comic gets the chance to be brought to life in a movie.  Getting every die-hard fan to agree is impossible, but that doesn't stop studios from trying to cast out-of-the-box and appease the fans in person at shows like Comic-Con in San Diego every year.  Even the ones that turned out perfect and universally accepted (Christopher Reeve as Superman and Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man) had their big detractors in the beginning (especially when you hear the stories of Clint Eastwood or Robert Redford as Clark Kent and Tom Cruise as Tony Stark). 

It's an uproar of doubts every time.  Few Batman fans have ever stood behind Michael Keaton (Beetlejuice, seriously?), Val Kilmer (ugh!), George Clooney (dear Lord!), and even the current Christian Bale (grrrrr!) as a true Caped Crusader.  Adam West, anyone?  Please!  In the comics, X-Men's Wolverine is a 5'-and-change pug of a tough-guy, not a dashing 6' tall showtune-singing Australian like Hugh Jackman.  The boo-bird list goes on and on: wimpy and old Toby Maguire as a teenage Spider-Man, the eccentric and weird Nicolas Cage as Ghost Rider, the bland Ben Affleck as Daredevil, a black Halle Berry as Catwoman, and every member of the Fantastic Four.  It's a good thing Ryan Reynolds beat out the heavily-rumored Jack Black for Green Lantern, yet even he is still Van Wilder in the eyes of a lot of people. 

Fans want their comic book heroes in movies played by stoic studs with square jaws and a stern strength.  So when a tubby funnyman like Seth Rogan tackles The Green Hornet, the eye-rolling and chorus of groans are very audible.  Granted, The Green Hornet isn't exactly a household name or an icon like Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man, but people can't help but picture the straight-laced Van Williams from the TV series.  Because of that stigma from the start, the success of the new 3D film The Green Hornet hinges on Rogan stepping up to be a stud and a good movie being made around him.

The result is noble attempt, but a miss.  You can only go out of the box so far in daring to be different. The Green Hornet was written by Rogan himself and his Superbad writing partner Evan Goldberg, also known for showcasing Rogan in The Pineapple Express.  Does that make for crime-fighting pot jokes and shenanigans?  No, but it's close.  They also brought in quirky director Michael Gondry of Be Kind Rewind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Does that make for a bucket of weirdness and trippy imagery.  No, but, again, it's close.  It will make you long for the possibility several year back when Mallrats's Kevin Smith was in charge of this project and had Jake Gyllenhaal in mind for the lead, or even when Kung Fu Hustle's Stephen Chow was going to direct and star after that.

Seth Rogan plays Brit Reid, the slacker playboy son of trailblazing Los Angeles publishing magnate James Reid (Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson).  When James is found dead, the empire is left to Brit who wants nothing to do with his father's legacy or his business.  It's when he befriends his father's former associate, Kato (Taiwan megastar Jay Chou), that he starts to get inspired.  Kato wows him with gadgetry and souped-up cars.  When Kato shows off his own martial-arts talent, Brit convinces Kato that they should become crimefighters that pose as bad guys, with Brit taking the lead as the "Green Hornet."

From there, Brit decides to get involved with this father's newspaper, at the behest of its steward (Edward James Olmos), in order to put the exploits of the Green Hornet on the front page for his own benefit.  He also brings in a hot personal assistant (a misplaced Cameron Diaz) with a background in criminology to assist at the paper.  This new attention as a supposed unknown public menace of crime irks the current local heavy, Russian mobster Benjamin Chudnofsky (Inglourious Basterds Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz), who's looking for an image adjustment.  If this sounds like the set-up to a comedy of errors and bad excuses at action and comedy, that's because it is.

The Green Hornet is very sloppy from top to bottom and beginning to end.  The parts just don't fit together.  You can tip the hat for Sony trying something different with Gondry and Rogan, but it doesn't work.  Both aren't suited to action, pulp, or comedy.  Some scenes and gadgets are fun and some are downright cartoonish, and not in a good way.  Don't waste your money on the extra cost and pop of 3D, or you'll get the same egg and mess on your face as the makers and stars of the movie.

Chrisoph Waltz is essentially playing an American version of his odd-ball Hans Landa character but with a worse script of lines and a PG-13 rating.  Tom Wilkinson and Cameron Diaz look lost, misplaced, and wasted in bad secondary roles.  Millionaire playboys have been done better.  Seth Rogan, no matter how much he worked out to lose a little weight, shaved his stubble, and paused before speaking to prevent his usual druggie cackle and giggle from coming out before every line, can't play serious or stoic and can't carry an action scene.  Like the aforementioned casting woes, add him to the boo-bird list.

Just as in the old TV show, the saving grace and real energy comes from the Kato character.  Played by the legendary Bruce Lee back then, Kato is the real star and the real crimefighter of the duo.  Jay Chou does a great job giving the Kato character more depth and more to do than Lee's silent sidekick.  His Kato is a great modern update and Jay's moves and talent are the reason to see and enjoy The Green Hornet.  Other than that, you'll need a mop for clean up in Theater 11.

LESSON #1: LIVING UP TO ONE'S POTENTIAL-- The Green Hornet/Brit Reid story borrows common elements from better Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark stories.  You have a millionaire playboy character who spends most of his life disinterested in the family business.  You also have a slacker element of wasting one's potential.  Like Wayne and Stark, Brit Reid can be great and requires special motivation to finally live up to his birthright and potential.

LESSON #2: THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD PARTNER-- Every hero supposedly needs a good sidekick.  If you are a talentless and untrained crimefighter like The Green Hornet, you better get a really good one.  Kato is the best partner a hero could ask for.  He fixes cars, can open non-twist beer bottles, subdue multiple opponents with blinding skill, and can come home to make a delicious cup of coffee.  Kato kicks Robin's ass any day.

LESSON #3: DON'T BITE OFF MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW--  When you are that talentless, untrained slacker of a crimefighter, don't try taking on the baddest MFer in Los Angeles.  If you're running a newspaper with no newspaper desire, initiative, or experience don't try making the news, calling the shots, telling good people what to do, or take on the District Attorney in an election year.  Potential or not, know your role, pay an expert, and go back to staying by the pool with hot skanky supermodels.