Screen Rant's Vic Holtreman reviews The Green Hornet
Hey, are you old enough to remember when everyone freaked out about Michael Keaton being cast as Batman because he was a comedic actor, didn't have the look nor the stature to play the iconic masked vigilante - but in the end it turned out to be a daring bit of casting and pretty damned cool?
Well that didn't happen with The Green Hornet.
The Green Hornet movie has a (troubled) history going back to mid-2007 when rumors first floated that Seth Rogen would be playing the titular hero (and writing the script). Initially Stephen Chow (director of the hysterically funny Kung Fu Hustle) was set to play the role of Kato (the sidekick), and then came word that Chow would be directing as well. Well a few months passed and that sequence reversed itself: Chow was not going to direct (due to creative differences) but would still play Kato. A few more weeks go by and Chow bowed out of the project completely.
Having seen the final product, I am left seriously wondering what a Stephen Chow-directed Green Hornet film would have been like.
I'm sure I will be hit with the standard "Hey, can't you just enjoy a fun movie?" argument, so let me preface this review by saying that I am a fan of director Michel Gondry's very funny Be Kind Rewind. And while I'm not a huge Seth Rogen fan, I did enjoy Superbad, which he co-wrote.
Enough preamble. In this latest incarnation of The Green Hornet, Britt Reid (Rogen) is the son of a newspaper magnate who didn't have time for him as a child (his mother died when he was young). Dad is stern and has high standards - and Britt rebels by going the opposite direction and ending up as a 30 year old, irresponsible party boy. After one last "I'm disappointed in you" his father dies of a bee sting (he's allergic), leaving the newspaper and wealth to a son who is not only unprepared for the responsibility - he doesn't want it.
He comes to know Kato (now played by Jay Chou), who was not only his father's auto mechanic (garage full of gorgeous, rare automobiles), but he makes an incredible cup of coffee using an espresso machine he built himself. Britt comes to learn that his father was paranoid about security and has had Kato build some pretty hard core defenses into "Black Beauty" - a very cool black sedan from the late 60s. They become friends (kind of) and with both of them feeling the need for some excitement (and maybe, purpose) one thing leads to another and they decide to form a crime-fighting duo. But in order to be more effective (and this really doesn't make much sense) they decide that the best way to help people and be "the good guys" is to pretend to be bad guys.
While Kato has extreme martial arts skills in addition to apparently being able to assemble multiple heavily armored and weaponized cars from scratch in the span of days (by himself), Britt has basically zero skills. Of any sort, whatsoever. While this is obviously to be milked for laughs, within the context of the film (especially as it moves ahead) it seems more ridiculous and annoying as it goes on.
While their goal is to disrupt gang crime in Los Angeles, they draw the attention of an old school crime boss named Chudnofsky (played by Christoph Waltz, who was amazing in Inglourious Basterds). Chudnofsky, while seemingly on his way out as young up and comers try to take over is not someone to be trifled with - in fact he's even more dangerous than ever because he feels like he's losing respect and authority among the crime bosses in the area. Also drawn into the fray is Cameron Diaz (less annoying than usual) as Britt's secretary/assistant. Britt and Kato are clueless about the workings of the criminal mind and she happens to be very well versed in that based on her degree in journalism.
As you can probably guess, eventually the duo gets in over their head and have to not only figure out how to save themselves from being killed, but how to overthrow Chudnofsky as well.
I have to say, Green Hornet started out (surprisingly) on a very high note. The opening scene with Waltz as the older gangster meeting with a younger, disrespectful younger crime boss (who I won't name to keep the surprise) started out cautiously, but just got better and better as it went on. It was, in fact, damn funny. But immediately on its heels comes the aftermath, in which there are a lot of people killed, which kind of hits you upside the head right as you come off a very funny scene. That point notwithstanding, the film does an excellent job of introducing and establishing the main characters within the span of the first 10 minutes or so. Films have tried to do that before and failed (*cough* The Losers *cough*).
We see that yes, Britt is a complete ass and Kato is a faithful, hardworking guy. We soften a bit (JUST a bit, and temporarily) towards Britt as he wants to learn about Kato and what he did for Britt's father, and it's fun to watch Kato introduce Britt to the cool stuff he worked on and did for dear, departed dad, and gives insight into what sort of person he was. Although it starts down the "ridiculous" slide, their excitement about doing something exciting and adventurous is almost contagious - and their first experience taking down a bunch of street punks is fun and a super-cool action/fight scene.
Unfortunately, that right there (about 20-30 minutes in) ends the "high note" and is where the downward slide begins.
Reid continues to be an insufferable ass throughout the entire film, and the longer it goes on the dumber it seems that he's out there risking his life against seasoned criminals. Sure, Kato is there to watch his back - but that brings up another point: Why in the world is this supposedly very grounded and intelligent guy sticking around a flighty, irresponsible egomaniac who takes him for granted?
There are many car chase scenes, all very hyper-kinetic with lots going on - and here is another sticking point: There was more than one instance where their chase through the city causes police cars to go flying into other vehicles - if they're truly trying to be "the good guys," what about all the collateral damage they're causing? Bystanders just driving nearby, taking the bus, etc. whose vehicles get totally destroyed (with passengers within)? Oh and there was one scene included to show off the bullet proof glass where during a police chase, a cop pulls up next to them and opens fire. Really? Cops shoot at you when you just try to outrun them without having shot first? And don't get me started on the scene where they use missiles in an unconventional manner to get out of a tight spot.
Cameron Diaz seemed almost like a character inserted after the script was written, and James Olmos didn't make much of an impact, even with his built in gravitas. Christoph Waltz also seemed almost like his scenes were spliced in from a different film - all very disconnected and odd-feeling.
There were other things that didn't work, either... It seemed quite seriously like those involved (Rogen?) really, REALLY wanted this to be an R-rated movie, but were locked into PG-13 due to the subject matter. Why do I say that? Because I can honestly not remember the last time I watched a PG-13 with so much profanity. I didn't try to keep count of the number of s-bombs Rogen drops in the film, but I would have lost it anyway - had to be at least a couple dozen. Add to that one or two a-holes, b*tch and I don't know what else. Frankly, it felt completely superfluous and it just added to the obnoxious, unlikability of Rogen/Britt. You can have an obnoxious protagonist, but when you start rooting for the bad guys, you have a problem.
And that's the problem with Rogen's Reid - the guy is such a monumental jerk that it's hard to get past it. He treats the guy who is keeping him alive in the field like he should be happy to be allowed to come along, he's a disgusting example of an over-cocky, sexually harassing pig with his secretary (Diaz), and just all around supremely annoying. By the end of the movie you're not hoping for redemption, you're hoping someone puts him in the hospital.
Also, this was pretty violent for a PG-13 movie that is sure to attract parents to bring their kids. Sure, you have violence in PG-13 movies, even superhero movies - but do we need close ups of two different people who've been crushed to death in a "light-hearted" semi-superhero comedy? If you're thinking this looks like a "fun" romp the kids would enjoy, I recommend you reconsider and leave them at home for this one.
Will you like it? Maybe. Some of the audience I attended the screening with seemed to enjoy it. Am I saying it's not funny or not worth seeing? No. There were moments beyond the first act where I laughed - not a lot, but a couple. There were tons of cool action scenes and Jay Chou's martial arts fights were exciting (when you could tell what was going on due to the super fast editing in some scenes), and director Michel Gondry did some interesting things, visually. These items and the first act are why I've gone as high as 2.5 stars on this.
But overall, The Green Hornet is an uneven mix that's not nearly as funny or enjoyable as it could have been.