It’s been less than 24 hours since I watched The Green Hornet, and I’m already having a hard time forming a strong opinion on it. I’ve definitely never seen a movie try so hard and turn out so immediately forgettable.
I at least have to give the movie moxie points for doing something (or rather, everything) differently. The Green Hornet eschews the now-formulaic Hollywood superhero blockbuster formula in favour of (seemingly) bold choices. Rather than a chiseled leading man they go for 20-something slacker Seth Rogen; instead of a gritty straight adaptation script they give free reign to Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express); in place of the usual action director du jour they give really free reign to the whimsical art-house stylings of Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, a shit-tonne of wicked music videos). Throw in some eyebrow-raising casting choices (Inglorious Basterds’ Christoph Waltz, Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou, T2’s Eddie Furlong, even The Wire’s Chad Coleman) and you’d think this movie would at least be something memorable.
So what the hell happened?
My biggest problem with Green Hornet is that it tries to accomplish too many things, but ends up doing each of them pretty half-assed. Maybe even quarter-assed. Every time it seems like the script is about to bust out and become something different and exciting, it quickly ends up back on the familiar rails of the lazy Hollywood action movie.
It’s funny, but never funny enough to carry a whole movie. The action is cool, but nothing we haven’t seen before. The Gondry-isms (such as the much-touted “Kato Vison”) are fun, but few and far between.
The plot, such as it is, concerns Britt Reid (Rogen), son of LA’s shout-iest newspaper magnate (played by Tom Wilkinson, who I guess had to pay off his new Lexus). When Reid inherits the empire, along with his father’s impossibly kickass mechanic Kato, he falls ass-backwards into being a vigilante known as The Green Hornet (for… some reason). Along the way he tries to make out with Cameron Diaz. Roll credits.
Above all, I’m never sure what in this movie I’m supposed to care about. The plot does disservice to the phrase “by the numbers”. Rogen plays Britt Reid as a self-absorbed, clumsy, and hugely obnoxious asshole, but is never funny or well-drawn enough to be interesting or relatable (for an example of this difficult character-type done well I suggest Bill Murray in Scrooged). Every joke of Rogen’s is one of those typically Rogen-ish throwaway lines that seems improvised, makes you chuckle, and then fades from your memory 3 seconds later. Seriously, a whole movie of that. I’ve been a fan of Rogen’s ever since Freaks & Geeks, but I still think he works best comedically in an ensemble.
Much humour is wrung from Reid’s partner Kato, played by Jay Chou, and their complete imbalance in competence. Chou is a commanding physical presence on screen, and his character is written as so super-humanly capable that I often wished the movie was just about him (seriously, Kato is a genius-level martial artist, mechanic, sketch artist, stunt driver, heavy weapons manufacturer, and barrista). The only catch is Chou’s obvious complete lack of English skills (apparently Sony had to pull a Jackie Chan and give him his dialogue phonetically). As a result his performance comes off wooden at best, and the buddy relationship between him and Rogen never once clicked for me. Seriously, the only scene between them I really enjoyed was when Chou mercilessly kicked Rogen’s ass. Oh, and as for the “Kato Vision” (in which time seems to slow down and he telegraphs every move he’ll use to dispatch his opponents), it’s neat, but I enjoyed the idea more last year in Sherlock Holmes. So there ya go.
Cameron Diaz’s character is written as such an exposition machine that the movie practically screams “bathroom break” whenever she’s onscreen. Oh, and they somehow managed to take Christoph Waltz, one of the most chilling on-screen villains from the past decade, and make him laughably boring. Even his own character spends most of the movie complaining about how nobody finds him intimidating.
Green Hornet manages several times to tease an interesting story direction, and then prove that it was clearly an accident. The casting of schlubby Rogen, coupled with Reid and Kato’s hilariously weak motivation to become masked vigilantes (they just sort of fall into it, and then decide it’s cool), at first seems like a sly comment on lazy superhero movie wish fulfillment. Sadly the movie never explores this, and a laughable third act reveal proves that this was never the intention at all – Rogen and Goldberg just never bothered to write anything beyond one-dimensional motivations for their characters. Oh, and the vast criminal conspiracy, along with the ludicrous montage explaining it to the audience, is better left unmentioned. Seriously, just brutal.
In short, I think the best metaphor for The Green Hornet is Rogen’s Britt Reid character himself: loud, occasionally witty, and stocked up with plenty of awesome toys, but ultimately so shallow and devoid of ambition that you’ll forget it the minute the lights come up.