Sunday, May 15, 2011

"The Green Hornet" (2011)

Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou and Christoph Waltz
Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Directed by Michael Gondry
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence
Running Time: 119 Minutes

The Green Hornet [Blu-ray]Seth Rogen is not exactly the type of actor someone would expect to be playing a superhero.  Nope, not so much.  But he doesn't do that bad of a job.  Sure, he wrote the role essentially to play to his own strengths, but 2011's "The Green Hornet" could have turned out much worse.

Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is the lazy son of media magnate James Reid (Tom Wilkinson).  He spends his days hungover and his nights partying, with no direction or ambition in life.  One day when his father is found dead from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, Britt finds himself in charge of a massive news organization that he knows nothing about.  He also meets Kato (Jay Chou), his father's mechanic and employee, who it turns out has been making Britt's coffee all this time.

One night while defiling a statue of James Reid, Britt and Kato save a couple being mugged.  Unfortunately, the media ignores that part of the store and latches on to the fact that the statue of the local hero had been decapitated.  Energized by their adventure, Britt and Kato devise a plan to become heroes... by posing as villains.  Thanks to Kato's incredible technological skill, they have cars with machine guns and missiles built in, and all sorts of gadgets like gas guns. 

Calling himself the Green Hornet in his own newspaper, Britt begins to lay the seeds of a new villain in town.  This catches the eye of the town's real crime boss, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), who does not take kindly to others invading his territory.  As the Green Hornet becomes more infamous, Chudnofsky's reprisals become more brutal until the city is gripped with fear, and Britt's plan seems to have backfired.  At the same time, Britt is gripped with jealousy over Kato's exceptional skills, while Kato is jealous of all the attention Britt gets, and the relationship between the two partners begins to deteriorate. 

With the cops on one side, Chudnofsky's gang on the other, and Britt's problematic relationship with Kato and his father's newspaper employees, and now a powerful District Attorney all coming at him, The Green Hornet finds himself in quite a pickle.  Can Britt man up, take charge, and clean up LA once and for all?

"The Green Hornet" is fun, but ultimately a giant mess of a movie.  The script is full of hilarious bits and some cool action sequences, but is also over-stuffed with subplots.  There's just two much going on in this film, which makes it jump from point to point to point trying to cram in romantic subplots, journalism, crime story, superheroics... If it weren't for Rogen and Chou's hilarious back and forth and some of the film's better action sequences, the whole thing would collapse under its own weight.

Rogen is in typical form here, though, quite slimmed down.  He talks fast, throwing out lots of sarcasm left and right, as he usually does.  Only this time he gets to punch, kick and shoot people, all of which he does fairly believably.  It's odd to think that Seth Rogen of all people comes across as a somewhat credible action hero.  Of course, the whole conceit of the picture is that the Green Hornet is really the useless sidekick while Kato is the one who has all the impressive skill.  The film smartly uses this to give some depth to their relationship, but Rogen does get to do some cool stuff just so we know that he's got potential.

My roommate had trouble discerning any of Jay Chou's dialogue as Kato, while I didn't have much of a problem with it.  Perhaps I watch enough Asian movies where I've gotten used to hearing this kind of poor English and can recognize and translate it.  So if you can understand what Chou is saying, he's pretty damn hilarious.  His fight sequences are impressively constructed, though highly stylized.  Director Michael Gondry has created a sort of unrealistic world where time slows and the three dimensions can be expanded.  It's difficult to explain, and doesn't really make a lot of sense if you try to look at it literally, but it is pretty cool to watch.  Gondry also inserts a sort of hyper-awareness that is illustrated by zooming into the character's mind, showing us his POV as he registers the different threats around him.  Now, I understood that this was just sort of a stylized way of showing us how Kato is aware of his environment - my roommate questioned whether or not he was actually a robot.  I guess, again, this comes down to me watching a ton more movies than he does.

The film's climax completely jumps the shark, of course, but is still quite entertaining.  The ending also seems to take a bit too long as the film takes its sweet time cleaning up the messes it created earlier on.  In general, the fights and action sequences are cool, the comedy is funny, but the film is just too unfocused and messy.  There's potential for a leaner, meaner sequel, but this film is just overblown. 

Despite its problems, "The Green Hornet" is entertaining, and certainly worth a rental for action fans or Seth Rogen fans (though, if you hate Rogen, "The Green Hornet" is not going to change your mind).