Friday, January 14, 2011


One of the signs that you’re a true movie star may be when you get cast in a classic role for which you seem completely wrong. Not many actors strike me as less obviously appropriate for the title role in The Green Hornet than Seth Rogen, the nerdy, laid-back, highly un-glamorous star of Knocked Up.

But then, casting Michael Keaton as Batman seemed crazy back in 1989, & he proved a revelation in the part.

Besides, I like Rogen. It bugged me to hear, repeatedly, the revulsion that so many viewers expressed toward his romantic pairing with Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up. Heigl played a promising TV entertainment journalist who finds herself pregnant after an impulsive & alcohol-fueled one-night stand with Rogen, as an amiable but aimless pothead. The disbelief & even distaste that many people had for the wary love affair that ensues seemed to me less about their different career aspirations & more about the visual: blond goddess in the clinch with bulky, broad-faced, frizzy-haired nebbish.

These commentators didn’t seem to notice Rogen’s sweetness, & the way he kept cracking the ravishing Heigl up, & breaking down her defenses—it was plausible that she’d fall for him. In the same way, I didn’t want to assume that a physically ordinary person couldn’t be convincing as a superhero; that only a pretty pan was fit to wear a mask. So I went to The Green Hornet with an open mind.

Also, I like The GH character. The gangbuster, who with his pal Kato is known to the police & the general public as a criminal himself, has always been sort of a cool, low-profile superhero. Created originally for radio in 1936 (it was established in the original series that he was the great-nephew of the Lone Ranger!) & featured in a couple of Universal serials in the ’40s, the masked, Fedora-lidded avenger, slightly similar in his minimalist costume to Will Eisner’s The Spirit, was never a really major presence in the comics.

He’s most remembered now for his short-lived but elegant incarnation as a TV series of 1966, which ran for just one 26-episode season. Produced by William Dozier of the ‘60s Batman series, it starred the ridiculously handsome Van Williams—about as different from Rogen as you could get—in the title role, & Bruce Lee as his sidekick Kato (reportedly, it was retitled The Kato Show for Hong Kong TV).

All this is by way of saying that I wish I could report more enthusiastically on the new Green Hornet movie. Alas, it’s not the left-field success I was hoping for. It isn’t a total disaster; it has a promising approach to the material & some very funny stretches. But it’s uneven & unsatisfying.

The approach of the script, by Rogen & Evan Goldberg, is that the GH’s alter-ego, newspaper heir Britt Reid, is a spoiled, strutting, hard-partying playboy with daddy issues whose personality swings constantly between likably exuberant & intolerably obnoxious. Kato, played here by the Taiwanese pop singer Jay Chou, is secretly both the brains & the brawn of the outfit—the mechanical genius behind their tricked-out ride The Black Beauty, & also a martial artist of nearly supernatural prowess. He even thinks up the Green Hornet moniker.

Essentially, this turns the story into a buddy comedy, almost in the Hope/Crosby vein, & there’s no reason this couldn’t have worked—without mugging or pushing, Rogen & Chou show a solid onscreen rapport. Even more strikingly, both Britt & Kato take a shine to the same love interest (Cameron Diaz). The idea of a woman caught in a love triangle with a superhero & his sidekick had possibilities, but this is one of several strands that are set up & then neglected in favor of lengthy, tedious car-crash sequences.

Rogen wins genuine laughs early on, but his performance is unvaried & pushy; he doesn’t show enough of his Knocked Up sweetness, & he starts to grate by the second half. The movie isn’t any more generous to its curiously thin-skinned gangster villain, Christoph Waltz—despite a few ripely-written scenes, he doesn’t really get to let it rip.

Perhaps Rogen, Goldberg & director Michel Gondry let this Green Hornet get too conceptually convoluted—it is, after all, about a guy faking it as a superhero who is, in turn, faking it as a criminal. Even so, the movie didn’t lose me until a scene about midpoint when Britt & Kato quarrel, & then have a long, idiotic, pointless brawl.

Aside from the brawl’s implausibility under the terms of the movie, it was also queasily similar to the equally ugly fight scene last year between Robert Downey Jr. & Don Cheadle in the otherwise enjoyable Iron Man 2. It made me wonder if the superhero genre was belching up some unsavory resentment on the part of rich Hollywood nerds, over the reluctance of attractive nonwhites to play the sidekicks any more.


  1. When it was announced that Gondry was taking over from Stephen Chow as director of this I got a little excited for the project. I thought at the very least there would be some visual flare. It's disappointing that the consensus is movie falls apart in the second half. I wonder what the Kevin Smith verison would have been? Regardless, my son wants to see it, so I'll still check it out. Sometimes his excitement over a movie, even though I objectively know it's not that good, is so infectious that it's hard not to join in on the fun he is having. This is exactly what happened with TRON.

    Have you seen SOMEWHERE yet? I'm hoping to catch that one this weekend as well. I've been looking forward to it for a while. It seems as if people either hate it or love, which I suppose is better than being in between.

  2. I know what you mean about being worn down by audience enthusiasm, even with a film that you critically think is lame or even terrible. Happens to me all the time, which is no doubt why the studios insists on critics seeing some films with a big audience. How old is your son? Hope he likes the film. I actually enjoyed big chunks of it, & I bet you will too, but it just couldn't settle on a tone, plus it's full of crappy action scenes it doesn't need.
    No, haven't seen Somewhere yet. Post again when you catch up with it.

  3. I am curious...bland.

    My question is this. The dynamics of the Green Hornet's world were established by its original authors, and nothing was found wanting. It resembled others of the superhero genre with its own slight modifications.

    So why pick on this character to offer some "approach?" Is it that nobody younger than my generation really remembers this character, so the industry can cash in on an old name with "the new twist." Or is it that the writers aren't able to tell the old dynamics in an interesting way? Are they lazy, or incompetent?

    "Let's make Reid and Kato like the Odd Couple!" Except that they weren't.

    What's wrong with the old boring relationship set in an interesting matrix of events? Would that be too difficult? Leave the hero's relationships unexplored while we, the audience, just get to enjoy the fact that 'here they are' and 'this is what they do.'

    Maybe this is what made the Dr. Who series so popular. You could come in at any time and still be confused as to who he is/was/will be.

    But not in the USA. Why not some mystery left to these characters instead of some hacks boring the piss of us with their exposition and social examinations and grade-school psychologies? This isn't Ibsen or Harold is a fantasy with characters that aren't real. Let them be "not real." Can't Hollywood ever just hint at a character's history?

    For Chrissakes, can't we just have a simple good versus evil film once in a while where somebody's inept handling doesn't ruin favorite comic characters from my youth?

    Even the Spider-man movies managed to look at the comic books the wrong way, and focused too much on the character shading than what was being shaded.

    Oh my, look at me rambling...I must get back to my job which merely occupies me while I wait for night to become... GrumpyMan! protector of the author's intent and savior of childhood memories everywhere!

  4. I love the idea of Grumpy Man, but I for the movie version--I think we can get Jim Carrey for it!--we need to come up with the ORIGIN OF GRUMPY MAN. Let's see...maybe he could have been a little boy who was always cheerful, but when he was exposed to radioactive popcorn while watching a crappy comic-book-movie remake, he turned super-grumpy. & his supervillain can be WeeklyGross, an evil secret studio head. Don't worry, we can hire a few different writers to flesh it out...
    Just remember, with great grumpiness comes...great responsibility!