Action/Comedy, 119 Minutes, 2011
I really (REALLY) wanted to like this. In the end I just couldn’t.
I’m not sure why but more often than not Seth Rogen just has this ability to drain the joy out of things. I noticed it first and most dramatically in “Observe and Report” but also in “Funny People” and “Zach and Miri Make a Porno“. It’s odd because I actually would say, if asked, that I’m a fan of his. I like that he pushes the envelope; that he doesn’t go for the easy laughs. But just as often as this works, it fails and sometimes spectacularly so.
By forcing us to reexamine our expectations he sometimes shocks us into enjoyment, but just as (or more) often he destroys what we were meant to identify with. In most cases this has no lasting effect or meaning: the characters are one-offs. So when Ronnie Barnhardt in “Observe and Report” goes off the deep end, it’s okay, it’s not like we’ll be seeing him again anyway.
But this is the Green Hornet. A classic character who, like “The Phantom” or “Jonah Hex” has found it difficult to translate well into the modern era but is still loved and remembered fondly. While it’s clear that a saccharine portrayal would have served nobody what we ended up with was an almost wholly unlikable character vastly more interested in his own needs than anything else. Britt Reid is played as a parody of Bruce Wayne, but where Bruce Wayne only acts the unlikable fool Rogen’s Britt Reid is an unlikeable fool.
The problem is exacerbated by Cameron’s Diaz character which spawns a tired plot thread pitting Britt against his newfound partner Kato to win her affections. While I like Cameron Diaz her character her is a cardboard cutout, a Playboy centerfold: designed to be looked at despite the empty lip-service made to her intellect. For his part Jay Chou plays an excellent Kato. The in-joke of Kato being the “real superhero” is an old one and used well here, but marred by the rest of the script. But Chou remains likable and I hope to see more of him.
Black Beauty, the duo’s multi-purpose, Swiss Army Knife of a car is used to great effect and leaves little to be desired. I was unimpressed with Christoph Waltz as the villain. The script pushed him too far into the ridiculous to be anything but sad.
I think the main issue I had however, and the one that continually nagged at me where I might have forgiven all else, was the overwhelming lack of respect for the genre. People die in this movie. Often. While it’s not graphic (in most cases) it’s clear and almost totally unneccessary. Thrown cars are shown landing on groups of henchmen, others are shown being shot or stabbed (and in one particularly graphic scene being stabbed in the eyes) which just creates a marked lack of fun.
Where good films like “Watchmen” or “Sin City” used graphic violence to make statements, “The Green Hornet” uses it indiscriminately and without purpose. As I started with, it simply drains the joy from the character and the film. Add the unlikability of (most of) the characters and you have to just lament what could have been a fun, roller-coaster of a super-hero movie.