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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Green Hornet (Release Date: 1-14-2011)

        It was hard not to get a little overly-excited about The Green Hornet in advance. I'm a proud member of the Seth Rogen fan club (calm down, not literally), I've watched and enjoyed all of director Michel Gondry's movies, and I've wanted to see Christoph Walltz in another flick from the second that Brad Pitt finished his masterpiece at the end of Inglourious Basterds. Imagine my dismay when I heard that the movie would be released in mid January, a ghost town usually reserved for studio left-overs, and the year's first Nicolas Cage movie. Needless to say, my expectations had to be adjusted.

        Rogen stars as Britt Reid, the slacker son of hard-working, frowny-faced James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), a media mogul, and local hero in Los Angeles. When James is fatally stung by a bee, playboy Britt is left in charge of his father's newspaper, and willed the task of living up to his titanic legacy. Enter Kato (Taiwanese Pop-Singer Jay Chou), the late James' auto-mechanic, and Cappuccino maestro. In addition to showing off about fifteen other-worldly talents within the first ten minutes of the two knowing each other, Kato is also the only one willing to say even the most vaguely negative thing about James to Britt's face, a fact that puts him on the fast track for best friend status. Needless to say, Britt has some Daddy issues.

        An unplanned, likely intoxicated series of events leads to the two of them beating up a group of would-be killers, and the rush proves too elating not to recreate. But unlike most masked heros, these two will pose as the bad-guys in order to get closer to the real villains, and take them down. Problem is, how exactly do they do that? As if answering a prayer, in walks Lenore (Cameron Diaz), Britt's newly appointed secretary who just happens to have minored (minored?) in Criminal Behavior. She is thus able to 'predict' the Green Hornet's next moves in a way that the do-gooders can replicate in real life. The two set their sights on Chudnofsky (Waltz), the city's most glamourous and prolific criminal, but lack any real perspective on what they're up against.

        Rogen's two main talents as an actor are his everyman charm, and his ability to play off of just about anyone with considerable chemistry. Both of these are on full-display here, as his and Chou's bromance is funny, natural, and more than a little bit gay (thank god they both go after Diaz, or the marketing on this one would have been a little tricky). While his physical abilities are a bit unconvincing, the actor has the good fortune of handing off most of the movie's more inspired action scenes to Chou, who's totally game. Britt also has a tendency to be occasionally mean-spiritied, a fact that both disrupts the film's peppy vibe, and grates against the whole Rogen image. These are likely the movie's worst moments.

        The word 'visionary' is often slated next to Gondry's name, but it's a tag that does him no favors. While you will never in your life hear me say something negative about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the rest of Gondry's canon is marred with poor story-telling, despite his obvious mastery of visuals. Here, both Gondry and the movie's script show a strange willingness to let individual scenes go on for extended periods of time, occasionally revealing sublime results (James Franco's extended cameo, for example), but only slightly less often dragging the movie's pace down (Diaz's first scene). The action sequences, however, are just as inspired as you hoped they would be. Gondry is no Scrooge when it comes to massive explosions (all fairly well-rendered in 3-D), and his visual explanation for Kato's action-scene dominance is both surprisingly graceful, and totally badass.

        The reasons for The Green Hornet to be released in January are pretty clear from the get-go. It has a messy, unpolished vibe that simply wouldn't fit in with the tent-pole action pictures of the summer. But for all its faults, the movie is still an undeniably fun watch, a pseudo-marquee picture to tide us over until the big boys get here. More-so than perhaps any other star working in Hollywood today, Rogen's inclusion in a movie officially makes it a 'Seth Rogen' movie, and this one is no different. My advise is as simple as this: If you like the guy, check it out. Otherwise, I'd save your money.

Grade: B-

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