Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Green Hornet

You know what The Green Hornet really reminds me of more than anything? The Mask. Most obviously because of Cameron Diaz's presence as the top-billed female, but also the eponymous superhero's signature color being green, that same hero operating mostly by night, turf wars between classy-yet-villainous gang leaders, the way it mixes action and comedy, and the largely lighthearted and irreverent tone with occasional moments of violence. The big difference is that The Mask's Stanley Ipkiss actually has superpowers — near-omnipotent ones, in fact — while The Green Hornet's Britt Reid hardly even has skills, let alone superpowers. He instead relies on his massively skilled sidekick Kato. Stanley Ipkiss' sidekick was a dog.

But I don't make this comparison to criticize (unless you hated The Mask, in which case your heart is cold as ice). On the contrary, I love The Mask and while I won't use a word as strong as love, I enjoyed The Green Hornet a great deal. It's neither the best comedy nor best action flick I've seen lately, but sometimes it's okay to be a jack of all trades, master of none, and the movie definitely made me laugh a fair bit and compiled enough clever action to have me feeling satisfied I hadn't wasted my money, particularly the climactic sequence. Without giving anything away except that many, many bullets are involved, I'll say that this is definitely a film that saves its biggest set piece for last.

The fairly simplistic plot involves Britt Reid, the rich and lazy son of an idealistic newspaper owner, finding out after his father's untimely death that his father's mechanic and coffeemaker Kato is in fact a martial arts expert. So the two team up to become superheroes, take down corruption, and clean up the streets of Los Angeles, something that doesn't sit well with gang leader Chudnofsky. The Green Hornet ain't exactly shaking up superhero formula — in fact, boiled down, it's doing a lot of the same stuff as Batman Begins, minus the ninja training cult — but it's a perfectly satisfactory clothesline on which to hang fights and chases and general goofiness, so that's fine. As True Grit recently proved, you don't necessarily have to shake up the formula to make a fine film.

Seth Rogen is definitely doing his standard Seth Rogen schtick again (I'd argue the only movie where he explicitly isn't is Observe and Report, one of many things that makes that movie so damn good), but it's a schtick that continues to make me laugh, so no problem. It's impossible not to notice a certain backlash against Rogen if you bounce around the internet long enough, but backlash never affects me, one of many awesome byproducts of having assurance in your own opinions. I guess it helps that I was familiar with Rogen long before he was Seth Rogen the Media Personality, back when he was just Seth Rogen the Little-Known TV Actor on Undeclared, but I liked him then and I still like him today.

The rest of the cast is a bit more nondescript, but no one stinks up the joint by any means. Jay Chou's Kato is charismatic and reasonably convincing in the action scenes (with help from the film's Kato-Vision, where we see enemies go into slow motion from Kato's point of view while he continues to move at normal speed), although it's obvious that Chou is nowhere near fully fluent in English and his accent is sometimes unintelligibly thick. This throws off his comic timing a bit, but Rogen does a good job picking up the slack. Christoph Waltz's Chudnofsky is obviously nothing next to Inglourious Basterds' Col. Hans Landa, but he projects an entertaining villainous sleaze.

Cameron Diaz's part as Britt Reid's new secretary who knows far about journalism than he does is interesting in that (MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH) she actually isn't the generic romantic interest you'd assume she is from the trailer. The movie hints that she is and seems to take the first steps down that road but rather cleverly averts expectations in a way that made me chuckle and nod in approval. I mean, how often do we see a superhero movie that doesn't forcibly shoehorn in a love story? It's not something I have a problem with when done well, but I still shudder thinking back on those syrupy, endless scenes between Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns.

The Green Hornet was directed by Michel Gondry, best known for his masterpiece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but you shouldn't see it hoping for much of his quirky style. It's pretty obvious Gondry was a hired gun here, with Seth Rogen holding the real power, although Gondry still does a great job staging some pretty clever action scenes, especially when the Green Hornet's tricked-out car gets brought into the mix. It's somewhat embarrassing for other filmmakers that a director who has never done an action scene before in his life was able to outdo anything in Clash of the Titans or Prince of Persia or, if I'm being perfectly honest, Iron Man 2. One scene where a single camera shot breaks apart into more and more separate squares, each following a different character, is particularly bizarre and cool and almost certainly a Gondry contribution.

I don't want to overhype anything here. There are several jokes that fall flat, the plot unfolds in a thoroughly methodical, predictable fashion, and thanks to Jay Chou's weak English the chemistry between Kato and the Green Hornet remains awkward and unwieldy throughout the entire film. But although it's not a flick I'll come back to again and again, I laughed, I saw one of the most clever car chases in years, and I had an altogether good time at the movies. If nothing else it's an infinitely better follow-up to The Mask than Son of the Mask.

3 Stars out of 5

No comments: