Monday, January 17, 2011

Green Hornet: A Review


Green With Stupidity...

In other countries around the world, the television show The Green Hornet was retitled The Kato Show, and the film adaptation might have been wise to have followed suit, given the character of Kato's prevalence in the film. It is unfortunate that the original Kato (Bruce Lee) did not live to see a film version of the T.V. show that first brought him to prominence in the States.

Then again, given the end result of The Green Hornet, he was mercifully spared what audiences will endure if they pay to see it: a rushed, nonsensical mish-mash relying on comedy but unsure of what exactly it is.

Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is the scion of newspaper magnet James (Tom Wilkinson). Britt is a full-time play/party boy: booze and broads are his mainstay. Then, his father dies, and Britt gains full control of The Daily Sentinel, but he either is too depressed or confused to be a good publisher.

Enter Kato (Jay Chou), James' driver and expert coffee maker. Britt is still with the emotional issues involving his martinet of a father, and in a drunken prank both go to decapitate James' statute. As it so happens, Britt sees a group of thugs attacking people, and he (or rather Kato) jump in to help. This incident, caught on surveillance tape, attracts the Sentinel's attention, and Britt, seeing a chance to glorify his secret identity, orders his faithful editor Axford (Edward James Olmos) to play up the exploits of the newly-christened Green Hornet. This does not sit well with one Chudnovsky (Christoph Waltz), a criminal kingpin. He is displeased that The Green Hornet is blowing up his meth labs and wants him dead.

In order to be a master criminal, or rather, a superhero pretending to be a master criminal, Britt is assisted by his new secretary, the beautiful Lenore Chase (Cameron Diaz), a woman with background in criminal psychology. Britt is very attracted to her, but so is Kato. She appears to favor the latter but since the former is their Boss, it doesn't take long for Britt's jealousy and raging ego to get in the way and he fires both of them. Chudnovsky (who soon decides to name himself BLOODnovsky and don a costume of his own to make his opponents fear him) decides to lay a trap for The Green Hornet: hire him to kill Britt Reid. Kato realizes that Britt's life is in danger while Britt is clueless about all this, until nearly too late, when he, in what I think may be the strangest montage in recent memory and/or film history, puts all the pieces together involving Chudnovsky, James Reid, and District Attorney Scanlon (David Harbour).

After watching The Green Hornet, I got the sense that star and co-writer Seth Rogen (with Evan Goldberg) didn't trust himself as an actual actor to carry a dramatic performance. Instead, Rogen went with the tried-and-true: throw in a lot of one-liners and have Seth Rogen play a Seth Rogen-type; that is to say a slightly dazed and confused frat guy.

Throughout The Green Hornet Rogen couldn't decide if Britt Reid was either an imbecile or just crazy. He certainly wasn't heroic, because he looked on everything as a big game to take his mind of his boredom. Take his snap decision to be a crimefighter. This choice to fight crime with crime (by basically being vigilantes) is done almost as a lark: Oh, Let's Be Superheroes Because It's Really Fun and We Really Have Nothing Else To Do.

We never know what motivates Britt, other than his inflated view of himself, and Britt never appears to realize just how dangerous and deadly his new hobby is. There is no evolution to the character, and if he's just a bored rich kid who decides to go into going after criminal kingpins as a hobby, you wonder about his mental stability.

If it was meant to subliminally mock Batman, at least he had a logic to his antics, while Britt never had any logic, period.

Let's look at when Britt and Kato decide to go officially fight crime for the first time. What better way to fight crime than to find a gang in a seedy part of Los Angeles (I figure it's actually East L.A. given the gang was made up of Hispanics). It's a full case of WASPs in Gangsta's Paradise. Having a phonograph record in the car play that song did not help matters, which leads to the question: A PHONOGRAPH? Seriously?

Britt appears clueless as to how approaching a group of thugs may actually be dangerous, that he is unable to fight them off alone, that Kato did most of the fighting, and most bizarrely, that he is surrounded by dead people. Here he is, responsible for killing a group of guys, and he somehow seems so disconnected from reality that he expects them to answer him even after he sees that they are all dead.

Everything about Rogen's interpretation of Britt Read makes it look like he's hopelessly immature or worse, downright stupid: when he's finally contacted by a mysterious villain on the e-mail he so helpfully placed on the cards he leaves at crime scenes, he is gleeful, not concerned that a real criminal just contacted him. In short, Rogen/Reid is too much of a goofball to be taken seriously, which killed any chance The Green Hornet had of being a good superhero/action film.

It seems that The Green Hornet wasn't taking anything seriously. You can see that early on in the film, when Rogen's buddy James Franco makes a cameo. His performance signaled quickly that he wasn't taking his performance/appearance in The Green Hornet as anything other than a good time at best, at worst a joke. If we see that those on the screen aren't taking this seriously but take it as a joke, we can't take it seriously.

Here is where a debate can occur: is The Green Hornet suppose to be serious, or is it suppose to be a comedy, a spoof of superhero films? It wasn't, as far as I know, sold as a comedy, but as a straight action film. If it was meant to be a comedy, then it could work: there were a lot of people laughing at the beginning, and it makes sense when you refer to Chudnovsky as looking like a 'Disco Santa', but given the murderous mayhem going on and the action scenes, you have to believe director Michel Gondry was trying to make an action film with funny moments.

Rogen, however, decided to tilt The Green Hornet to being almost all comedy, so when we have what is suppose to be the confrontation between The Green Hornet and Chudnovsky, we are no longer going to see it as an actual action scene but as the coda on the comedy.

This obsession with comedy can take some bizarre turns. Take near the end of The Green Hornet, when Chudnovsky decides that he must take on a new wardrobe and name to inspire the fear The Green Hornet has been inspiring, although exactly why the Green Hornet inspires fear and not his unnamed trusty sidekick is unknown. Waltz delivers his lines as if he is trying to decide whether to be camp or serious. He seems just as out of it as Reid himself in his thought process: as if taking on a red suit and changing his rather difficult Russian name from Chudnovsky to Bloodnovsky would do anything to enhance his reputation.

He doesn't appear to realize his nom de guerre is silly, his new outfit, which I'd argue is more maroon than blood red, is pointless, and that for a master criminal he's remarkably inept in giving instructions to his henchmen: when ordered to bring him the head of the Green Hornet, every one of them kills people wearing green, including Green Bay Packer fans.

In the middle of what is suppose to be a climatic battle between the Green Hornet/Kato and Chudnovsky's crew, the latter stops to argue his choice of a gas mask as part of his new ensemble with the other villain; it's just stupid how Rogen/Goldberg/Gondry decide to stop everything for a quick and pointless attempt at humor. One thing is certain: Waltz should be thankful the Academy can't rescind his Oscar after seeing him in The Green Hornet.

Perhaps this is where I might get into trouble, but this has to be addressed. Chou certainly is no Bruce Lee: he doesn't have the charisma of Lee, but he also has a strong Chinese accent that made his dialogue difficult to understand. What is truly sad is that aspect is actually the good part of Chou's Kato, because given how Kato is written, it makes no sense that he would stay on with Reid or go along with anything Reid does.

He's an inventor who retrofits James' car (though we really never know why James would want so many gadgets in what was to become The Black Beauty), he's a martial arts master, and he has a sixth sense to how to deal with mobs coming at him with various weapons. With all that, why would Kato put up with such a narcissistic egomaniac idiot as Britt, a man who constantly downplays his contributions at every turn?

In short, Kato is too smart to be with Britt, let along go with him on this loony adventure. We do get a backstory for Kato (an orphan in China whose skills with cars attracted the attention of James) but given we had to sort out the story because we couldn't understand all that Chou was saying, we still never understood why Kato would want to stay with the moron Britt, let alone aid him in his child-like quest to be a superhero. I might have repeated myself here, but in this case, Kato's intelligence contrasted with Britt's stupidity should be remarked on and remarked on often.

Given the other name performers, we wonder what they had to do with anything. Wilkinson is seen in two scenes early in the movie, and given the script he performed James Reid had not changed his personality in twenty years. If we hadn't been told twenty years had passed, we would have thought his deeply harsh and disapproving father was talking to another of his sons. Given how stiff and cranky he was in his only scenes, one wonders where his passion for cars came from since he doesn't seem to have any interests whatsoever.

In a roundabout way, James does make another appearance at the end of The Green Hornet, narrating Britt's realization of the truth behind his death and the corruption he tried to stop, apparently from beyond the grave. Olmos' character did what is deadly and lazy in a film: tell you his reason for being in the film. "I was your father's most trusted confidant for over twenty years", he tells Britt when he first comes into the Sentinel's office, apparently for the first time since he was eight. I ask, 'wouldn't Britt know who this man was'? Why do Axford have to tell him,unless it's really to tell us.

Cameron Diaz gives her underused and superfluous character the sincerity a dramatic take on the film would need, and it's sad when Cameron Diaz gives the sincerest performance in a film.

Everything in The Green Hornet is such a bombastic misfire: throwing in heavy doses of comedy when a more restrained approach would have worked, rushing from scene to scene to where you don't know any of the character's or their motivations for doing what they are doing, not even giving us enough time to remember some of the character's names (for most of the movie, I though Olmos' character was called 'Alex' rather than 'Axford' because we had to race to another bit of Rogen comedy).

James Newton Howard's dramatic score to bits of comedy only enhance the mess The Green Hornet can't get out of: when you have serious music playing while Chudnovsky is contemplating a name change as well as a catchphrase makes everything play out as if it were meant to be a spoof, and I don't think Rogen & Company were going for that.

To be fair, The Green Hornet never makes clear if it is a spoof or not.

There are scenes in The Green Hornet that seems to capture the rather chaotic nature of the film. In the opening, Britt brings a young woman over to his (or rather, in the ultimate case of the anti-Empty Nest, his father's) mansion, and they in super-speed go from car to car, making out in each, until they complete the circle and leave the garage to find them in bed together.  In another scene near the end, Britt realizes too late that he doesn't have the information he needs to put the villain away. One has to ask then, how is it that the Black Beauty has a phonograph and various weapons but no Internet access? Even more rudimentary cars have GPS, so why couldn't Kato retrofit the car to have some Wi-Fi?

A superhero film could play one of two ways: either completely straight (Superman: The Movie) or as a spoof (the 1966 Batman film). When a film tries to have it both ways (like say, Batman & Robin) it creates such confusion that it sinks under its own grandiose ideas. The Green Hornet spends most of its time trying to be funny, even in moments that call for a more serious tone as opposed to flat-out laughs, then throws action scenes that are muddled, chaotic, and surprisingly uninteresting.

You can have light moments in an action/superhero film, but there is simply too much comedy in this disjointed film to make it either a spoof or a good action film, and far too much misguided action to make it either a spoof or a good comedy film. If it's a comedy, one can only be mystified as to why The Green Hornet has quite gruesome ends to some characters. If it's an action/drama, one can only be mystified as to why The Green Hornet has quite idiot scenes meant to make us laugh.

People may laugh, but I don't think people will care to see what else The Green Hornet & Kato will do. It's nice that Seth Rogen had a good time destroying his chance for a franchise. Pity he showed that truly it is not easy Bein' Green.

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