Sunday, January 23, 2011

"The Green Hornet" Review

There are worse ways to waste 108 minutes than on "The Green Hornet." Thinking back to last January's tepid slate of releases, I can already think of a few. Low expectations might be one reason I found indie spirit Michel Godry's foray into franchise filmmaking a worthwhile distraction, but so long as you aren't in the market for a straightforward, solemn superhero affair, it offers enough disposable entertainment to earn commendation in its own right.

Seth Rogen is not a superhero. That's an important fact to understand upfront. The role is not a transformative turn for the comedian and screenwriter, and his take on the material is to form fit the character to himself rather than vice versa. The result is a goofy, inarticulate comedy about an over-privileged slacker and a jack of all badass trades (Jay Chou as Kato in his American debut) clumsily stabbing at genre convention. It may not make for great storytelling, but as comic heroes the pair provide more than enough laughs.

And "The Green Hornet" is funny. The core relationship between the protagonists provides an amusing parody of the unspoken homoerotic tension in so many machismo-driven actioners. The Green Hornet and Kato are a less-secure dynamic duo, and they lead a cast of misfit characters that embody the skewed reality of the film's world. Their nemesis is played by Christoph Waltz of "Inglourious Basterds" fame—a gangster toting a double barreled handgun with the tin-eared pseudonym, 'Bloodnovsky.' Waltz manages to juggle a threatening presence and broad slapstick rather well, and his delivery of the line, "I'm ungassable!" deserves special recognition. In short, the humor de jour is delicious, aromatic cheese.

Much of the negative response to "The Green Hornet" comes out of two unfair criticisms. The first stems from the current societal expectation that superheroes necessarily deserve straight-faced screen adaptation. Christopher Nolan's Batman films have had a considerable impact on the tonality of comic book fare, to the point where this lighthearted alternative is already fighting an uphill battle for public acceptance. To my mind, even a mixed bag of successful barbs and Saturday morning hijinks are preferable to another depressingly grandiose and self-servicing stab at dramatic credibility.

The second criticism is even less fair. Many have whined that "The Green Hornet" is unimpressive by comparison to Gondry's other creative wellsprings. Granted, his latest doesn't represent the innovative visualist at the top of his game, but the French auteur achieves everything he set out to. For better or for worse, Gondry is satisfying studio expectations, asserting style only when the story allows him to do so. "The Green Hornet" is a mainstream superhero film first and foremost, and well integrated flourishes like a multiplying split-screen sequence distinguish his version over most imagination-defunct Hollywood jobbers. Where problems exist, they seem to have seeped in through the cracks in Rogen's screenplay.

I wouldn't argue that Gondry's "Green Hornet" is a great film, but it deserves defense when a double standard sees tripe like "Iron Man 2" receiving high marks. It isn't the reinvention of the wheel you might expect from a music-video director turned art house favorite—nor is it the hilarious comedy you might expect from Rogen—but it does offer a unique interpretation of the tired superhero origin story, an increasingly rare feat as companies award third and fourth tier comic book characters their undeserving title shots.

"The Green Hornet" is the product of many talented people having fun in tandem. Sounds like a perfectly good way to waste 108 minutes.


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