Slipping into a funk while watching half of Los Angeles get shot up in the second half of The Green Hornet, I was struck by the sheer unluckiness of this film’s timing.
In the wake of the recent massacre in Tucson, Ariz., it’s suddenly, temporarily, a little harder to laugh off scene after scene of obsessive gun fetishization and mass slaughter in a superhero vigilante lark. I’m as much of a hypocrite as any moviegoer on the issue of diversionary screen violence. I’ve lapped up more than my share. I appreciate the comic impulse behind this $120 million bauble; director Michel Gondry’s action comedy at least has the nerve to seek out more comedy than action.
But the script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, tailored for Rogen in the title role, rides a streak of blasé raunch and overscaled action smack into a series of walls, each spray-painted with phrases beginning with “Too.” Too much. Too numbing. Too coy. And ultimately, too violent. By the time the underworld villain played by Christoph Waltz of Inglourious Basterds gets his eyes gouged out and the auxiliary villain (no spoilers) is impaled by a falling car, the fun has been sidelined altogether.
Too bad, because there are some grace notes along the way. Unlike Batman or Superman, the Green Hornet is a niche figure, with which contemporary filmmakers can do whatever they like. Gondry’s sense of the fantastic, mixed with his attention to everyday reality, has led in previous projects to the glory that is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in addition to the more mixed but stimulating Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind. Gondry was pegged to direct The Green Hornet years ago, in an earlier incarnation; his time eventually came, and, with Rogen aboard, a straightforward, predictable result was virtually un-guaranteed.
Rogen and Goldberg, who wrote Superbad when they were still teenagers, retool The Green Hornet for a world overpopulated with superheroes and superhero movies.
Britt Reid (Rogen) is the playboy son of an L.A. newspaper baron (Tom Wilkinson) who dies by bee sting, leaving Britt in charge. Because he has nothing better to do — the script works more by whim and caprice than compelling plotting — he teams up with one of his father’s employees (Jay Chou, waging a touching, occasionally decipherable struggle with English) to become the Green Hornet, aided by faithful, patronized sidekick Kato.
What works here? The little things. When Kato invents a “gas bomb” that puts its victims to sleep, the first version knocks out Britt for a full 11 days (he wakes up with a considerable beard). That’s funny. It’s funny to see Kato in his underfurnished studio apartment updating his resume after his battle with Britt.
The car — the tricked-out Black Beauty, with machine guns embedded in the doorframes and an ancient LP player for atmosphere — looks fantastic. But Gondry’s action sequences tend toward the lengthy and the shapeless. The post-production 3-D is just about useless. And the enjoyment one gets from the body count, the scenes of people being crushed, pummeled or machine-gunned, well … this isn’t the week for The Green Hornet, at least for me. The film is pretty messed up even without a recent tragic event hanging over its head.
— MCT, Tribune Media Service