Thursday, 20 January 2011

Film #4 The Green Hornet

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know the story. Spoiled rich kid (Seth Rogan, who also co-wrote) inherits family newspaper business after death of father. Wanting to ‘put a bit back’ he teams up with sidekick (Jay Chou as Kato, a role iconically ‘owned’ by Bruce Lee in the original TV series) to become a DIY superhero, posing as a villain to secretly do good, all the while pumping up his alter-ego’s profile via his own newspaper leading to conflict with local organised crime figure (Cristoph Waltz). A potential love interest (Cameron Diaz) hovers in the background, doing little.

Watching Knocked Up I came the conclusion that Seth Rogan - who is fine in small doses – cannot hold a film together. His stoner-slacker-wisecracker acting persona is funny but fundamentally limited. My view has not changed. I enjoyed the shtick for the first half hour our so – and it’s fair to say that Rogan and ‘international superstar’ Chou have good chemistry – but he just doesn’t have the range or the charisma to carry a lead role like this. The obvious and unflattering comparison is with Robert Downey Jr., a great success in the Iron Man franchise which was/is similarly silly and has a vaguely similar premise (i.e. droll rich person with no supernatural abilities becomes superhero).

For the record, I don’t dislike Rogan – though he is a one-note performer, that one note is generally played well – but he is out of his depth here as the Hornet. Nor is there a show-stealing villain; Cristoph Waltz – so good as the Jew-hunting SS colonel in Inglourious Basterds – makes an extremely disappointing Hollywood debut despite a promising faceoff with a young pretender (James Franco, uncredited) in the film’s opening set piece.

Jay Chou is a highlight and will surely go on to better things in Hollywood. However, his Kato never really settles into the sidekick role – he combines Alfred, Robin and Bruce Wayne in one character – and the confused competition with Rogan for the affections of Cameron Diaz (in the unlikely role of interning newshound) falls flat.

Oddly, perhaps because of the presence of Diaz (or maybe those green hues throughout), the film that this reminded me most of was The Mask, another big-budget action-comedy, albeit one with a more transgressive sense of humour and a much more capable lead in Jim Carrey. The Mask also had groundbreaking visual effects; The Green Hornet is undeniably well put together visually, but lacks soul, spirit and genuine invention.

Oh, and there’s the dreaded 3D. I’ve been agnostic on the issue for a while – I didn’t mind it in Piranha 3D and Jackass 3D (surely the kind of films it is designed for), didn’t really notice it in Toy Story 3, and actively hated it in Alice in Wonderland (a pretty awful film that is made even worse by the extra dimension). It is utterly pointless in The Green Hornet. I wouldn’t mind, were it not for two points: firstly, as a glasses-wearer having to put the 3D specs over my normal glasses top is a bit of a pain, and secondly, even with my sweet pay-monthly deal I’m still charged a solid quid-fifty extra to watch in 3D.

A note on the director, Michel Gondry. I’ve been a big fan of his from his music video days, and I’ve enjoyed his feature films (especially Be Kind Rewind which seems to capture his aesthetic and humour perfectly). While there are a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em Gondry touches in the visual effects and set design, this is clearly not his film. In fact, the whole project reeks of excessive studio intervention (mucking about with the release date, whispers of poor reception in test screenings, the late decision to retrofit into 3D)

Surprising, then, that the film has apparently proven to be fairly successful at box-office, in the US at least. To be sure, it has little competition in January and the fanboys will watch it regardless of critical reception. However, I predict that the sub-par performances, uninspiring story and disappointing visuals will garner poor word-of-mouth followed by a precipitous drop out of the top ten.

****4/10

Screening notes:
Early-afternoon screening on weekend of release. Fairly busy in one of the larger theatres, generally groups of friends in late-teens & early twenties. We were treated to two visits from the hi-vis bouncer.

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