Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet is a strange film in that it owes its enjoyment to those others it steals from. Add to that problems in tone (swearing is surprisingly aggressive for a 12A, indicating a level of immaturity from co-writer/exec producer/star Seth Rogen), and a distinct lack of director Michel Gondry's authorial stamp, and what you get is a bunch of ill-fitting bits.

What can't be argued is its almighty debt to Kick Ass in particular (plus Batman and others), which covered similar ground with much more edginess, controversy and self-awareness. Ironically, that film had the capacity to sting, and did so without mercy; The Green Hornet is more blunted and dulled. It's got the full force of the Hollywood marketing machine behind it but, bizarrely, the film is somewhat regressive. Being the latest incarnation of a superhero whose inception dates back to the 1940s, and who has already enjoyed a rich history (including Bruce Lee's short-lived TV series), there seems to be little sense of modern sophistication or wit.

It would be interesting to know what creators George W. Trendle and Fran Striker would have made of their hero being reduced to the level of Seth Rogen slobbery, because that's exactly what happens. Rogen stars as Britt Reid, playboy son to a newspaper magnate (Tom Wilkinson) who dies from a bee sting. Realising his father's coffee maker, Kato (Jay Chou) is a whizz with gadgets, Reid hits on the notion that they team up and become superheroes, in his case The Green Hornet. The plan is to pose as baddies in other to divert attention from themselves when in fact they'll be fighting the villains on their own turf for the greater good.

It all sounds promising but the whole ethos of the piece can be summed up by an undercooked, though enjoyably smarmy, Christoph Waltz. As antagonist Chudnofsky, Waltz carries an air of someone happy to be simply invited onto a Hollywood set. Such coasting pervades the whole film, adrenaline levels rarely exceeding a moderate hum throughout, while all of the best gags carry an uncomfortable air of familiarity. The 'ordinary schmo becomes a superhero' overlap with Kick Ass would perhaps be considered unfortunate until one considers the former began filming long before Hornet, leaving plenty of time for liberal 'riffing'. How else to explain the presence of an identikit gag whereby both heroes dance in their car The Black Beauty prior to going out and kicking butt?

But it's not just Kick Ass. There's the playboy/superhero duality that Rogen simply can't convey in the manner of a Keaton or Bale; the house fight that was diluted in Iron Man II because of the metal suits but which carries an air of childish nastiness here; and many more lifts that act as entertaining reminders of other, better films. Rogen's overbearing persona almost completely stomps out the Gondry spark which made Eternal Sunshine and Be Kind Rewind such a joy; his screenplay, co-authored with Superbad cohort Evan Goldberg, revels in the boorishness of the Reid character but fails to make us feel anything sincere.

There are glimmers of the self-referential film Gondry wants to make; at one stage, the screen splits into multiple frames conveying a series of criss-crossing conversations. Later on, a key revelatory moment is also conveyed in brilliantly inventive fashion, staving off the need for tired exposition. These are the moments that should dominate throughout but in the end it's more a Seth Rogen film than a Michel Gondry film. There's nothing strictly wrong with that but it's a bit of a cheat to fly under the radar of a superhero film, only to come over all Funny People. The utterly superfluous presence of Cameron Diaz however is just Superbad.

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