The Green Hornet
Directed by Michel Gondry
A 2003 documentary on Michel Gondry is called I've Been 12 Forever, its title neatly summarizing the French director's playful, innocent approach toward cinema. But with The Green Hornet Gondry's brand of eternal adolescence has him crossing paths with some of the dimmer elements of the mass culture from which he's so far differentiated himself or else reappropriated. I've Been Twelve Forever—aren't most moviegoers these days, and won't these same moviegoers likely make The Green Hornet and its bromantic superhero hi-jinks another forgettable box office champ?
It's easy to see why the producers chose Gondry to helm their film—at heart this Green Hornet is a stunted boys-with-toys fantasy. Based on George Trendle and Fran Striker's masked vigilante, who first appeared as a 1930s radio serial before making the move to comics and television (where Bruce Lee found his first screen role), the relatively obscure and campy Hornet is the perfect superhero to reimagine as a sarcastic slacker. In co-screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's treatment, newspaper empire scion and Hornet alter ego Britt Reid possesses made-to-order daddy issues (eventual assassination victim Tom Wilkinson once took away a toy from little Britt and humorlessly chastises the grown version for his party-happy lifestyle), though any resultant "dark side" is replaced by an endless run of wisecracks and Boys' Life adventuring.
The latter commences once the fatherless Reid (Rogen) discovers among his bequeathed estate jack-of-all-trades mechanic/cappuccino expert Kato (Taiwanese pop idol Jay Chou), who amazes with an arsenal of tricked-out cars (machine gun-toting doors, unbreakable exterior, etc.) and bullet-time-assisted martial arts moves. As the two make their way to verdant-tinted superhero-dom, the awkward overtones of a racially predicated master-servant relationship are thankfully undermined by Chou's uninhibited (albeit unconsummated) romantic life, refusal of demeaning labor, and superior ability compared to the pampered Britt; Rogen, for his part, is charming rather than his usual aw-shucks smug, possessing an enthusiasm for his new crime-fighting jones that's genuinely infectious. Any time he says "Awesome!" in response to Kato's latest invention or thug-immobilization, you can rest assured it's from the heart.
Less from the heart, however, is Gondry's realization of this material. Aside for two or three instances of rapid-speed photography or multi-layered thought process evocations, The Green Hornet remains a middle-of-the-pack exercise in action movie noise and excess. Gondry is a proficient enough director to actually allow his audience to understand the mechanics of a fight scene, but he's also unwilling to take any chances with the "you've never seen this before" DIY wizardry on which he's made his name. Shouldn't the Hornet's gadgets be revealed through something wittier than a White Stripes-scored montage? If ever a multi-million dollar production—the numbing climactic scene involves the demolition of a restaurant, a car chase, a shootout in a printing press, and an ejection seat rescue—suppressed a director's idiosyncrasies, this is it.
Perhaps Gondry shouldn't be taken too much to task: no director alive could have risen above the film's glib script. As per Pineapple Express (also Rogen-Goldberg-penned), The Green Hornet winks-nudges at each generic cliche it indulges and yet somehow never quite ascends to the level of absurdist parody-imagine those "sweded" movies from Be Kind Rewind, but with their ragtag silliness replaced by a needy self-awareness. The homoerotic undercurrents of Britt and Kato's partnership/rivalry (the latter over strong-willed secretary Cameron Diaz) are continually defused via one-liners while Christoph Waltz's lame drug lord receives a neurotic insecurity to undermine his villainy, but no amount of meta-ness can hide the fact that this is essentially another playboy-as-defender-of-society myth reinforcing the notion of crime as a causeless plague easily remedied by glorified pajama party fights. In other words, twelve year-old stuff. Enough has been written about our culture's current reign of eternal adolescence and its vindication of bland hegemony in the guise of underdog irreverence. One can simply quote Bill Hicks: "Fuck your 'Inner Child.' Get in touch with your outer adult."
One more note: The Green Hornet, it seems, has fallen victim to a crummy 3-D post-conversion necessary only for lining the pockets of its creators. In any other case this would just be one more instance of cheap Hollywood cynicism, but with Gondry involved one can't help wonder: shouldn't a man who prides himself on his low-budget visual effects be ashamed at being attached to a project that fleeces its audience with hollow promises of high-tech splendor?
Opens January 14