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Seth Rogen as the Green Hornet: Superhero Slob

Only inertia will bring people to Michel Gondry’s 3-D spectacle, The Green Hornet. Opening amid persistent negative buzz in the mid-January dead zone, this long-germinating prospective franchise, based on a character that first saturated the nation’s radio waves in 1939, seems pretty much DOA—although in the absence of any competition, it’s a likely magnet for loose cash.

Rather than a $90 million Gondry head trip à la The Science of Sleep or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the largely retro-fitted 3-D action extravaganza is a $90 million Seth Rogen comedy (he stars and also co-wrote). The indestructible vehicle that the masked, crime-fighting Green Hornet (Rogen) drives is this eminently swat-able movie’s overly optimistic metaphor for itself. Gondry may specialize in fantasies about fantasy, but abandon all hope that The Green Hornet is a whimsically ramshackle blockbuster like the “sweded” remakes in his Be Kind Rewind. The Green Hornet provides a half-hour’s worth of mildly entertaining travesty before collapsing in a clamor of bombastic action sequences and lame wisecracks. As slapstick, the movie peaks early, with a frenzied slo-mo montage of the star’s frantic, drunken revelry, complete with projectile flying out the window of L.A.’s Standard Hotel.

A sort of ass-backwards Henry IV, the narrative has something to do with the flagrantly irresponsible son of a crusading newspaper publisher redeeming himself, after Dad’s death, as a flagrantly irresponsible, costumed do-gooder—thanks largely to the help of his employees, the genius sidekick and “human Swiss Army knife” Kato (Chinese pop star Jay Chou) and the unnaturally intelligent looker he hires as his secretary (Cameron Diaz). Buried beneath the movie’s fat is the notion of a self-entitled white guy lording it over more talented lackeys. Working sometimes at cross-purposes, the three succeed in ridding Los Angeles of a local crime czar (Christoph Waltz) and crooked D.A. (David Harbour).

Who's the boss? Jay Chou takes control of the Green Hornet.
Jaimie Trueblood
Who's the boss? Jay Chou takes control of the Green Hornet.

Initially conceived by Kevin Smith, Rogen’s Green Hornet is not the first facetious costumed crime-fighter, but neither Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man nor Will Smith’s Hancock were as doggedly unattractive as this tubby denizen of Upper Slobovia. That the Green Hornet is also an incorrigible raging asshole provides most of the movie’s humor. At his loudmouthed best, Rogen’s ridiculous dude-isms and relentless self-justifying blather can suggest a proudly stupid Albert Brooks; at his worst, as when tirelessly (or is it tiresomely?) hitting on co-star Diaz, he’s simply Seth Rogen.

Gondry worked well with the obstreperous air-guitar king Jack Black in Be Kind Rewind, but where Black is a physical comedian with demonic intensity and Gleason-like grace, Rogen is largely post-physical—spasmodic, fist-pumping victory dances notwithstanding. His exertions are evident but unsustained; he perfumes the movie with eau de stale sweat socks. (As Manny Farber once wrote of George Kuchar’s Hold Me While I’m Naked, The Green Hornet is a movie that loves its own body odor.) The least that can be said of Gondry’s contraption is that it seems fully aware of its own idiocy and advances a touchingly anachronistic faith in the power of the press, via Edward James Olmos’s serious journalist, who attempts to run the newspaper the Green Hornet has inherited.

Exhibiting none of the cornball grandeur of Tron, Gondry’s 3-D derives a modicum of interest from his naturally eccentric visual style—gratuitous high-angle shots, playfully shallow focus—and fondness for excessively vast or cluttered living spaces. The most effective (and possibly the only genuine) use of 3-D is reserved for the pop Blam! Pow! moiré-patterned end credits. By that time, even Rogen’s fans will most likely have beaten a hasty retreat.

 
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10 comments
Sakara
Sakara

NO MENTION OF THE GREAT BRUCE LEE...? What a racist reviewer...! Might as well write about a godfather remake and not mention Brando.

Linakano
Linakano

Well, not Chinese but Taiwanese pop star, actor, director and producer, Jay Chou (star of Zhan Yimou's Curseof the Golden Flower) who provides the movie's limited charisma and hook to the Asian market.Otherwise, this is a reliably astute Hoberman review.

nchammer
nchammer

How is not mentioning Bruce Lee racist? The reviewer doesn't talk about the television show at all, nor is the film a remake of an earlier "Green Hornet" film or a riff on the show. So not mentioning Bruce Lee makes sense. Instead--and rightfully--he compares it to the other comic superhero movies like "Iron Man" done in the same vein and then concludes by telling you not to waste your money on the movie, whether in 2-D or 3-D.

Sakara
Sakara

The fact that the reviewer also notes that the new kato is Chinese, when he ain't...more racism!

Rexsaigon
Rexsaigon

Hey Sakara, you filthy dolt, the CHARACTER of Kato IS Chinese. He explains it clearly the Rogen's character when they sit on the patio swapping background stories. Making a stink over CHOU'S background as a Taiwanese is irrelevant. Much like you.

Sakara
Sakara

You young fanboyz should find some bootlegs of the 60s green hornet tv show, to find out who bruce lee even was----once upon a time there actually were charismatic actors, not the bland over-paid bums that call themselves actors now days.

Zoopy
Zoopy

It's true, Sakara, your comments are really stupid. Sorry!

Sakara
Sakara

blow me. And tell your mom to do the same.

Brettvape
Brettvape

Are you stupid? Most Americans don't know (or care) if orientals are Chinese or Tawainese. It's not a real concern to us. Stop crying racism every time you little yellow heart is broken...

 

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