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Review: 'Green Hornet' Lacks Sting, Anything Else Even Remotely Interesting

by Drew Taylor
January 12, 2011 3:28 AM
12 Comments
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Loud, clamoring, haphazardly thrown together and risibly scripted from what feels like a poor first draft, Michel Gondry's unfunny, unengaging "The Green Hornet" lands in a January release date because it's exactly warranted: it's a throwaway action picture meant to fill the early new year void, but contains zero substance and few genuine joys or laughs.

Certainly Gondry's least successful picture (read: worst), not to mention Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's most poorly scripted effort (a near embarrassment at times for what it tries to pass off as humor and motivation for points of action), from a directorial standpoint it's a completely banal effort because the filmmaker's attempts at mimicking studio populism fail wholeheartedly. Or perhaps it succeeds, because other than a few sequences that have the overtly obvious Michel Gondry stamp on them (these scenes pretty much bring the movie screaming to a halt and might as well have a spotlight announce a Michel Gondry visual show), the director does his best to convince you this is a Steven Seagal action film, with the same flimsy plot used to simply get characters to kick-ass and fight. Truthfully, most of the failure must land on the shoulders of Sony, Rogen and Goldberg. "The Green Hornet" script is pitiful in many ways and one of the most obviously disjointed ones we've seen onscreen in years. Sony should have pulled some quality control measures and never allowed this-still-in-building-blocks stage project to hit the screen, and Rogen and Goldberg have penned their first genuine bomb (guys, you should have known better). Frankly, this is Kevin Smith "Cop Out" territory -- talented people clearly out of their element or compromising beyond the levels of good sense (given every interview of late, it sounds like Michel Gondry tried to over-prove his tentpole mettle).


The movie gets off to a thunderously dead start, with a brief flashback showing a young Britt Reid (played for the majority of the film by Seth Rogen) being reprimanded by his father, a mercurial newspaper magnate (Tom Wilkinson), for trying to stop a schoolyard bully. We then flash-forward to arguably the most entertaining sequence, wherein a local villain (played by a big-name cameo we won't reveal here) faces off against the old guard, a gangster named Chudnofsky (played by Christoph Waltz, recycling much of his Oscar-winning "Inglourious Basterds" shtick; the running-gag about Chudnofsky pronunciation is groan-worthy). The sequence is genuinely funny and bristles with an offbeat sense of humor. But then that scene is over and the movie proper begins and, as each minute ticks by, any hope for something above the most middling action movie, dwindles until you're ultimately resigned to the fact that you have just witnessed one of the biggest Hollywood follies in recent memory.

Back to the story (we're getting ahead of ourselves): Reid, now fully grown into the lumpy, oafish rich-spoiled man-child that Rogen specializes in (dude has range), is a party machine interested only in booze and loose women. His father reprimands him for being a lumpy, oafish man-child, and just as quickly vanishes. Shortly afterwards, Britt learns that his father has died of a bee-sting-related incident and has left his son in control of his vast fortune and newspaper. Instead of offering a crisis of conscience, or causing him to spring into some kind of proactive mode, Britt continues to be a total douchebag (and not the kind of loveable douchebag that you can still see yourself mustering enthusiasm for – just a vile fucking person). The only reason that Britt even makes contact with Kato> (Jay Chou, a Taiwanese pop star) is because Kato makes Britt's coffee just the way he likes it (no, really, these are the plot points as written), and after Kato shows Britt his super cool coffee maker, it leads them into a bro-mantic interlude wherein Kato also shows off his other cool inventions, including a car with bullet proof glass and gadgets galore (again, no really). These early scenes are sort of cute if you're teenager, but you still can't shake what an asshole Britt is, and just how poorly stitched together the film is from scene to scene. These early sequences, with the two men bonding, could have used a little more zip but frankly there's not much you can do when the duo have almost zero chemistry. One has to wonder what the filmmakers were thinking.

The impetus for the duo becoming superheroes, disguised as supervillains, isn't some grand call to justice or even the flimsy, tired tropes of revenge or loyalty. Nope. Their quest begins out of boredom. They go from sitting on the couch to stopping crime. And then back to the couch. Now would be a good time to discuss Gondry's chops as an action director, since the first time Britt and Kato (mostly Kato) stop crime, it's visually dynamic, with Kato zeroing in on the bad guys and their weapons and using his heightened reflexes to slow down time while he whoops ass. However, its basically a hamfisted video-game conceit and the picture has to start and stop for these tonally different and almost out-of-place action sequences. While not exactly like the visionary "bullet time" eye candy of "The Matrix," there are some nice flourishes if you're just here to admire technical visual tricks, like when Kato kicks a baddie over the hood of a car that expands to being five cars (wait, what's the point here, other than for the 3D to look "cooler"?). But these kaleidoscopic effects aren't ever used with any real potency and essentially amount to flashy, computer-assisted wow and flutter (sparkle for geeks who will likely "ooh" and "ahh" and mistake this for a good movie).

But those scenes are also a bit of a saving grace, because once we actually get out of those Gondry moments we're faced with more groan-inducing repetition and amateur-league exposition. Countless times (many of them dubbed after the fact as clunky ADR) Seth Rogen shouts and points and says "That's what we need!" or "That's where we're going!"), as the movie burps along in fits and starts, there seems like there might be potential for some thematic development. For example, the villain Chudnofsky is having a midlife crisis, fearful of his obsolescence and Britt runs a newspaper, an entire industry clamoring under the weight of its impending demise. But are parallels drawn? No. Not at all. Is there any subversion of the superhero genre? Nope, none of that either. So what is there?

Well, there's Cameron Diaz, who basically shows up so that the movie's restless misogyny has something to aim at. As Britt's temporary secretary, the masked duo use her for researching purposes and…..that's about it. Otherwise, she's there to give the bumbling superheroes some direction in the second act and to provide a target for Britt and Kato's verbal volleys and insults which are painfully unfunny.

By the time the movie reaches its jaw-droppingly cacophonous conclusion (wherein a bunch of bad guys chase our heroes into the newspaper's headquarters amongst a chaos of bullets, bazookas and other nonsense), you'll probably be exhausted, bored and slightly infuriated. You'll likely not want to see Seth Rogen on a credit sheet as actor or writer anytime in the near future, and the sinking feeling that Michel Gondry is a one-hit wonder ("Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind") will sit uneasily in your stomach next to the popcorn and Milk Duds. Filmmaking basics such as narrative cohesion and basic storytelling principles seem to be avoided in favor of visual trickery and video art project effects. And this would be fine if it served a purpose, but when surrounded by a film flailing to be entertaining, funny or even tolerable it largely plays like window dressing for a movie everyone knows is widely missing the mark.

From the awful James Newton Howard action-sitcom score (congratulations, Michael Giacchino, you are now popular enough to be very poorly ripped off) to the awful assemblage of pop songs that collide into one another, to the baggy, unstructured mess of the narrative, "The Green Hornet" is a near-atrocity and a miserable experience. Rogen, Gondry, and company were promising the reinvention of the already-stale superhero genre but instead, with a self-satisfied smirk, they deliver another rote superhero movie that's just as formulaic and dumb as the rest. It stings alright, but not in the way you want it to. [D]

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12 Comments

  • Christopher Bell | January 13, 2011 6:55 AMReply

    Alex, I didn't write the above review, Drew did. But I think most of us, if not all, liked Pineapple Express. If the humor and ideas were done as well as they were in that film we'd be game, but it doesn't work in this. They don't go far enough with certain things and it feels choppy and/or lazy.

  • Alex | January 12, 2011 11:53 AMReply

    I enjoyed this a lot, but I also didn't expect anything more intelligent than MacGruber with costumed vigilantes and thankfully didn't see it in 3D. I also had a lingering fear it was going to be awful, so I was pretty pleasantly surprised.

    Judging from the review, the fundamental problem Chris seems to have here is that Seth Rogen made a Seth Rogen superhero film — i.e. The Pineapple Express with people dressing up in costumes in the place of pot — and he was expecting something else that sounds taxing, intellectual, and profound, which Rogen doesn't really have a track record of.

    (Some spoilers.)

    The arc of Diaz's paper-thin character was supposed to be a subversion, as she doesn't end up with Rogen at the end of the film, so the accusation of misogyny comes off as a little strange — it reads like there is some discontent that she doesn't follow a more standard arc. And Rogen's character isn't supposed to be someone you want to root for — he starts as a man-child and ends as an irresponsible psychopath who has killed dozens, if not hundreds, of people and caused an absurd amount of property damage; the film is unequivocal about Britt's amorality. (I assume some of that hyperviolence was removed for the PG-13 rating, but I can't imagine that the lack of blood would bring any innocuousness to the killing. Also, I'd be genuinely surprised if there's not an unrated DVD/Blu-Ray release.)

    And if you are really going to zing the film, why not point out the jokes that Rogen/Goldberg lifted directly from The Simpsons?

  • Christopher Bell | January 12, 2011 10:06 AMReply

    I really like "Be Kind Rewind," it oozes with love for cinema. It's very sentimental and sometimes messy but it has a huge heart.

    I like the things that Gabe mentioned and it does have some more really goofy, off-beat things, but it doesn't seem to know how to use them in a decent way. They usually just go to waste. I look back fondly on those ideas and think that they were a good starting point, but where they ended up was so lazy.

  • bonzob | January 12, 2011 8:15 AMReply

    Gondry is not a one-hit wonder. Science of Sleep and Dave Chappelle's Block Party are both great.

    Even Be Kind Rewind is pretty good.

  • Gabe Toro | January 12, 2011 6:57 AMReply

    Oh, pish posh, there is plenty of superhero subversion. The mid-life crisis supervillain that everyone laughs at? The superhero resume? The sidekick macking on the lead female? The father figure being a kind of dick? I mean, that if anything was the amusing stuff I came away with.

  • Alex | January 12, 2011 6:43 AMReply

    Be Kind Rewind is HIGH art compared to this, seriously.

  • Eric | January 12, 2011 6:36 AMReply

    I'm just happy to know that I've not been alone in my assessment of everything Michel Gondry has done since "Eternal Sunshine". I wasn't able to finish "Be Kind Rewind" or "The Science of Sleep."

  • shackett | January 12, 2011 5:48 AMReply

    Whatever is happening, I'm sure there's a Michael Keaton biography that Rogen is reading as we speak to help him get through this move.

  • Kimber | January 12, 2011 5:28 AMReply

    Solid review, Drew. I had a better time than you did, but mostly because I giggled my through its ridiculousness.

    And I have an embarrassing soft spot for Rogen. I could not handle him as an actual person, but he cracks me up when I only have to spend two hours with him twice a year.

  • N Hyman | January 12, 2011 4:33 AMReply

    Is it as bad as the colossally boring and inept Be Kind Rewind?

  • BradZuhl | January 12, 2011 4:11 AMReply

    Uh, did anyone expect anything more than another giant studio turd shoved down our throats? Wake up Hollywood, just because it's based on a comic/superhero property doesn't mean people will line up like lemmings to see it!

  • [A] | January 12, 2011 3:49 AMReply

    Ouch.

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