Nothing can be less inspiring than hearing, “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.” However, that is precisely how I felt after seeing director Michel Gondry’s take on The Green Hornet. After years of false starts, various directors and actors attached, this movie has been delayed and re-worked and delayed some more… starring unlikely hero Seth Rogan as media heir Britt Reid and, although a mega star in Taiwan, the virtually unknown Jay Chou as Kato, the martial arts expert/genius of the pair, the early buzz on this was anything but flattering. Then, just days before its’ release… people began to say that it was better than they thought it would be. I would have to agree.
Perhaps we are simply tired of superhero movies. Do we feel slightly burned from our heightened expectations of Iron Man 2? Is it being a bit tired of Seth Rogen and his schtick? For me, the latter was a big part of my hesitancy to see this. I was having a hard time putting Seth Rogen together with “hero” in my head. And in many ways, I still am. As Britt Reid, Rogen plays him for both laughs as would be expected, but also as a completely unlikable, lonely and ignorant dick. I can imagine where they were going with it… let’s play around with the very idea of hero (I can’t say superhero because there is nothing “super” about either one of them). I’m not 100% sure it worked. We already have the very wealthy yet flawed Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark… Britt Reid is simply the more spoiled and obnoxious of the three.
Jay Chou for his part was quite entertaining. His command of the English language leaves a bit to be desired… but his martial arts ability and his seemingly very laid back persona worked very well with Rogen and ended up giving this movie more of a buddy movie feel than an action movie. For whatever reason, Cameron Diaz is introduced into the story as both a way to advance the story by means of having a secretary more capable than the hero and a point of interest for both men. I suppose without her a large part of the story wouldn’t have transpired… but those parts (trying to remain spoiler free) are the moments that seem the most contrived and bring the story to a bit of a drag midway through. And finally there is the villian… Chudnofski, as played by Christoph Waltz of Inglorious Basterds fame. His calm demeanor does very well for him when playing the bad guy. He shares a scene with an uncredited James Franco at the beginning of the film for what should have been the first of many great scenes… yet ends up standing out as one of the best. For as often as I was afraid he would have gone into a completely cliched villian act, he seemed just as often reserved and humorous.
Michel Gondry, director of such striking films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, is a director who knows how to manipulate a camera and give his audience a wonderful visual extravaganza. There are moments in this film where his stamp is all over it. Some of the fight scenes incorporate this wonderful slow motion mixed with multiple image technique that is very in keeping with his style. I was hoping to see more of this… but like many aspects of this movie… you get a bit of something fantastic, then it pulls back and goes somewhere odd… not quite in pace of where you want it to be. You are then brought back in… and this is where the movie succeeds… it is fun.
I was surprised at how many parts of this film I was able to internally criticize… and going in with the idea it would be crap didn’t help… yet still really enjoyed the experience of watching it. At no point was I completely turned off to the story… there were moments that came close when it came to whether or not I cared whether The Green Hornet himself, Rogen, lived or died… but overall I actually had a great time watching this story unfold. There are a number of fun action pieces and one hell of a massive collateral damage set piece towards the end of the movie. Seth Rogen still has a way to go before he is a believable action hero, but he is still an enjoyable presence on the screen. Hopefully he will gain a little range in the coming years and maintain his cache. Jay Chou has the difficult role to fill… Bruce Lee’s. No easy task, and totally unfair to hold anyone to. He did a great job… but don’t expect his career to rise here in the U.S. unless his English gets a bit better.
Will this become a franchise? Probably not. But it was a fun look at an often overlooked crime fighting duo. Having it’s start in 1930’s radio and then a TV show from the creator of the original Batman TV series this was an idea ready for an update. Would it have played better if it’s tongue weren’t so firmly planted in it’s cheek? I don’t know… but for what it’s worth, it is a movie worth taking a look at. Not great… yet not bad. For as much as I’d like to give either a glowing review or a scathing one… if ever there were a three star… or a C grade film, this is it.
Yours in absentia,
Cornelius J. Blahg