Saturday, October 26, 2013

Movie #219: The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet is a superhero movie based on the character of the same name, from old radio shows. It stars (and was written by, and executively produced by) Seth Rogen, and co-stars Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christolph Walz, Tom Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos, and David Harbour.

Britt Reid (Rogen) is the son of wealthy newspaper owner James Reid (Wilkinson). The first scene, Britt as a child getting in trouble for coming to another child's aid, establishes the elder Reid as a complete dick. He has some journalistic integrity, sure, but the language he uses with his son ("It doesn't matter if you try when you always fail," "You're taking up too much of my time") is the kind of language that screenwriters use when they want to establish a character as a bad guy or set him up for a redemption plot. Neither of these things happen.

Fast forward; Britt is an adult, at least technically. Really he's a spoiled man-child (and who better to play that than Rogen?) trashing hotel rooms, bringing home bimbos, and generally being an ass, all the while LA is in the midst of a crime wave perpetrated by mob boss Benjamin Chudnofsky (Waltz). The Reids fight, and shortly thereafter James dies of a bee sting. Britt fires the whole staff (off screen, which is really jarring), but then recalls Kato, his father's personal mechanic and...um...barista.

Now, here's where things get weird. Turns out that Kato is, among other things, an expert weapons designer, and James had been asking him to build and armored car with spikey extending hubcaps and beanbag guns. This might be because of the aforementioned crime wave, but it's never mentioned again. Kato and Britt go out to vandalize a statue of Reid (turns out Kato hated him, too), and wind up foiling a robbery. They decide to pose as criminals, try and "take over" organized crime in LA, and work to clean it up. That's not a very well thought-out plan, but Britt hires a secretary (Diaz) who, in addition to knowing publishing, is decent with criminology, so becomes their mastermind.

This all has the makings of a fairly standard origin story, and it could have been really good or it could have been really mediocre. Instead it's sort of weird. Here's why: Rogen obviously wrote the dialog, and as a result, Britt is completely unlikable. He's brash, stupid, misogynist (the way he treats Diaz is horrible, and he gets called on it - even maced - but that doesn't make it better because he never learns a thing). He has no appreciation for the danger he places people in. And, even after Chudnofsky kills a bunch of people for no better reason than they were wearing green, even after his editor (Olmos) tells him that this is the consequence for recklessness in reporting, that moment isn't earned because it doesn't go anywhere.

There are some potential premises here, but they don't really pan out. The chemistry between Rogen and Chou is nice, but Rogen is so terrible a person that it's hard to root for him at any point. The standout performance, actually, is Waltz' careful, considered portrayal of Chudnofsky, an aging but brutal crime boss who just wants to be feared and respected. As he watches the young, dumb, and loud new "criminal (the Hornet) tear his city apart, he tries to ape the new kid - gets a cape, calls himself "Bloodnofsky", comes up with a catch phrase - but like most of the rest of the movie, it never really goes anywhere.

Kudos to the writers for never putting Diaz in danger, fridging her or damseling her, or for making her a romantic subplot (both men try to woo her and fail spectacularly), but her supposed role as mastermind is wasted because she never actually tells them much of anything.

Basically, the movie has some fun moments, and it's a Michel Gondry movie so it's shot interestingly, making it a visually appealing movie. But it's uneven in tone, not especially well written, and kind of a disappointment for the character. I think the same basic movie with the same cast would have worked much better with a more competent screenwriter.

My grade: D
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Gremlins