Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Green Hornet

2011. Dir: Michel Gondry. Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz and Tom Wilkinson. ●●●○○

Is the lure of a large budget just too much for some of cinemas most idiosyncratic directors? Do these often visionary and talented helmers think they will be the one to tame the studio system and allow their ideas shine? How else can you explain Michel Gondry signing for The Green Hornet, the latest in a long line of comic book style superheroes brought to the big screen? Gondry's done what he could with the material, but it's still a mishmash of styles and themes with an inescapable feeling the writers, director and producer all had different ideas of what the final product should be like.

The hornet started life as a radio series in the 1930's, moved into theatres as a supporting serial for a while before finding it's ideal location in 1960's TV where it is mostly remembered for introducing the world to Bruce Lee as the enigmatic chauffeur/martial arts expert Kato. On it's way to the screen this version of the story has had as many amendments and personnel changes with directors, stars and villains bailing at every opportunity.

Britt Reid (Seth Rogen, looking almost sexy now he's lost a bit of weight) is the lounging Lothario son of media mogul Tom Wilkinson with whom there is a complex father-son relationship. No sooner than can you say expositionary scenes Wilkinson is lying dead on the veranda and Rogen most take over the family business. Through a chucklesome and clever drunken prank Rogen and Jay Chou (playing Kato) end up being identified (largely by his glamorous secretary Cameron Diaz) as a pair of small time gangsters with the ultimate aim of muscling in on Christoph Waltz's criminal empire.

As the whole appears to be three different films tacked together I'm going to try and break this review into those separate slices:

The Script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg is in the same vein by the work they've done together in the past on Superbad and Pineapple Express with it's fair share of homoeroticism and un-PC banter between the fighting duo. The one-upmanship and petty jealousies that form the backbone of their relationship make perfect sense in respect to their respective childhoods and the nature of their employer/employee background. Unfortunately the further away from this bond the less competent the writing, Diaz's Lenore Case is little more than a receptacle for T&A comments and her comic potential is utterly wasted and characters like Edward James Olmos's sub editor and David Harbour's DA are simply there to advance the plot.

The Direction by Gondry is recognisable, with delightful touches like Kato time, the garage kissing and the moment where Rogen works it all out that recall the practical effects and quirky style we've come to see from him. The opening scene also nicely sets up the different ways Rogen and Wilkinson view the world and wholey explains what will happen later in the movie. On the other hand we're not in the Gallic helmer comfort zone, some of the fight scenes are frantic and poorly lit with key mobsters just disappearing in the dark - I'm still not sure what the final fate of Waltz's Chudnofsky. There is also a strange disconnect between scenes, with rarely a flow from one section to another - you could easily walk out to get a coke and come back and not need to know what happened in between.

The Studio probably bear the biggest brunt for the failures of the film, so far we have a flawed but fun action flick with adequate central performances from Rogen, Chou and Waltz (reprising his Inglorious Basterds schtick but with more self doubt) and then it's gets spoiled with a shoddy and unnecessary 3D conversion which has the bizarre consequence of making the special effects look cheaper. When flaming lumps of building are coming towards you they oddly look less real than when they're not.

Overall I would say this is one third a good film, one third OK and one third unforgivable. Watch it for the first two, and enjoy the good parts.

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