Friday, 14 January 2011
A script from the minds behind "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express"? A troubled production which saw comedy martial-arts mastermind Stephen Chow briefly in the director's chair? Source material best known for a brief, campy TV show featuring Bruce Lee? A replacement director best known for home-made mind-benders like "Eternal Sunshine"? However this turned out, it was never going to be an ordinary superhero movie, was it?
As it turns out, it's quite a film.
Quite a film in that it is quite funny, quite entertaining, quite exciting, and quite silly, but never really anything more than quite.
Seth Rogen has shed poundage in order to play Brit Reid, a typically Rogenesque layabout who, after the death of his newspaper-editor father, decides to do something worthwhile with his life. Rogen doesn't stretch himself here and has adapted the character of the Green Hornet to fit his persona. If memory serves, the Hornet was originally the brains of the outfit and Kato was the muscle. Here, the Hornet is a bumbling doofus and Kato is his ass-kicking carer. This will undoubtedly cause aficionados to take umbrage and alienate those who can't stand Rogen's usual schtick, but I found it an amusing and diverting partnership.
Both the Hornet's and the movie's secret-weapon is Jay Chou as Kato. Softly spoken in endearingly broken English and continually exasperated by Rogen's mugging, Chou is the perfect foil. And that's before he starts running around bashing people up like some kind of high-kicking Tasmanian Devil. He may not be Bruce Lee, but he has a damn good crack at it.
Cameron Diaz shows up, for some reason, in a role that only serves to cause friction between the leads as they both attempt to woo her in a severely under-developed subplot. Cristoph Waltz is great value, if also underused, as a perpetually insecure villain, Tom Wilkinson phones in a brief stint as Rogen's dad, recent amputee Jimmy Franco has a fun little cameo early on, and former John Connor Edward Furlong has a depressingly convincing two-scener as a meth-head.
The biggest surprise and, potentially, disappointment is Michel Gondry's direction. It is a far cry from his usual visual insanity, but he does bust out a few novel visual tics. The disappointment comes when, time after time, just when you think he's about to let fly with some truly bat-shit stylings, he seems to pull back. So we get a couple of 3D "Hardest Button to Button"-style shots in one fight, but then that's it. Our heroes escape a villainous trap and the stage is set for some chaotic construction-site carnage, but they just run over a hill and get away. Truth be told, the action and spectacle, like the film itself, never quite take off.
There is an inherent directionless quality to the narrative, born from a detachment between Waltz's crime-boss and the heroes. They don't seem to even know of each other's existence until fairly late on in the film, robbing a lot of urgency from proceedings. Plus, the aforementioned subplot involving Diaz's character never fully merges with the main event, leaving it and her feeling tacked on and distracting. Kudos for not having the lone female presence in the film be a sappy love-interest who gets captured at the end of the second act, though.
The "Hornet" property comes fitted out with one of the finest theme tunes of all time, which Tarantino magpied into "Kill Bill vol.1". The frantic, crazed, tongue-in-cheek bumbling of the theme would've fit perfectly with the tone of this piece, so it is a frustrating mystery as to why it is only used once in the whole film, making room for James Newton Howard's largely unremarkable score.
All this being said, I was always going to enjoy a superhero film where the crime-fighting duo burst into a rousing rendition of "Gangsta's Paradise" on their first night on the streets. It's this level of amiable but not hysterical silliness that sustains "The Green Hornet" through a few slumps on the way to a satisfyingly chaotic and destructive finale. It's quite good.