The sting of the superhero parody ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Friday, February 11, 2011

The sting of the superhero parody

The Green Hornet
My rating:

This is not a movie that anyone was anticipating highly. Bad enough that it's based on an almost-forgotten pulp hero from the prehistoric days of radio serials, and is now mostly known for a '60s TV show that starred Bruce Lee. It also underwent a famously troubled production history, in which Stephen Chow Sing Chi was once tapped to both direct and play Bruce Lee's character, but dropped out due to "creative differences." Then avant-garde filmmaker Michel Gondry replaced Chow as director, and Seth Rogen took on the lead role, neither of whom inspired much confidence that they could make a superhero action movie. (And then Jay Chou signed up, which probably turned off yet another certain bunch of people.)

So the fact that it eventually garnered a few positive reviews for being a decently fun movie is probably all it could expect. And here's another one.

Britt Reid (Seth Rogen), son of wealthy newspaper publisher James Reid (Tom Wilkinson) is an inveterate slacker, partier, and all-round male version of Paris Hilton - as well as a disappointment to his father. But after the elder Reid dies, Britt is moved to reassess his life. He befriends his father's mechanic (and coffee-maker) Kato (Jay Chou), and after they pull a prank to deface his father's statue that results in them beating up a bunch of bad guys, Britt hits upon the idea of becoming crime-fighters - who pose as criminals. Calling himself the Green Hornet, he begins a two-man war against the Los Angeles underground, even though he barely knows what he's doing and has to rely on Kato's martial arts skill, their gadget-laden car the Black Beauty, and his new secretary Lenore Case's (Cameron Diaz) criminology experience in (unwittingly) planning their exploits. Their nemesis is L.A. crime boss Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), who worries he's not scary enough.

The original Green Hornet and Kato may have been cool in their heyday, but they make for pretty boring superheroes today, being nothing more than two dudes in masks and a car. So credit to Rogen, who co-wrote the screenplay with Evan Goldberg, for trying to do something different with the genre. Do not, under any circumstances, go into this movie expecting a straight action movie with a superhero that's actually heroic. This is a comedy, in which the titular character is a moron and an asshole and never really stops being either. I feel the need to emphasize this, because I've seen quite a few comments about how annoying Rogen is, which is really missing the point of this movie. He's supposed to be.

Y'see, pulp heroes like the Green Hornet reflected the racism and misogyny of their eras, in which the ethnic sidekick was ever deferential to the awesome white hero who scored with a different chick every episode. This movie satirises all of that; Britt thinks he is all of the above when he is exactly none. This is why he's such an asshole to Kato (who is clearly much smarter and more capable than him), such a lout with Lenore (who isn't in the least bit attracted to him), and such a useless twat in the action scenes. Yes, he is all of these things, but he is also funny in them, and honestly even likable. There's a difference between a character that annoys all the other characters and one that annoys the audience; Britt stayed on the right side of that line for me.

Rogen plays Britt like an average comicbook fan (inasmuch as a billionaire playboy could be called "average") getting to play crimefighter, and his childish excitement helps sell his character. If it weren't for trademark licensing fees, you just know Britt would be referencing Batman. Jay Chou is an utter block of wood - but honestly, I'm not sure if that's not the exact right approach to balance Rogen's manic energy. Suffice it to say I could buy them as an action movie buddy duo. Cameron Diaz's role is pretty limited, but her comedy chops fits the tone of the film just right. Christoph Waltz, however, is disappointingly bland - and seeing as he was the best thing in Inglourious Basterds, I'll put the blame on the character as written rather than the actor. Oh, and Edward James Olmos is in this, and he was probably signed up at a time when the movie was meant to be more serious.

Gondry's famously surreal visuals are on display in only three scenes, which were fun - and in one of them, a single shot that breaks up into a dozen split-screens, technically dazzling - but largely inconsequential. The rest of the film feels like a 2nd-unit director did most of the work, especially during the action scenes that are competent but are in no way particularly Gondry-ish. (In fact, their typical blurry fast-cutting made me feel sorry for those who watched it in 3D.) Its main weakness is that it never really feels entirely cohesive; Rogen is doing his slacker schtick, Gondry is trying to make a Michel Gondry film, the stunt team is trying to make an action movie, Olmos is trying to maintain his dignity, and it all doesn't always hang together.

But there's enough fun to be had to make it a worthwhile 119 minutes at the movies (a little long for this kind of film, but it sails by breezily). Still, I can't see this franchise having much legs, due to its lack of a clear creative vision. Britt could learn from Kato and Lenore and be less of a cocky idiot, but that would eliminate a lot of what made this movie funny. And fans of the original Green Hornet are probably frothing at the mouth over how Rogen and Gondry turned the property into a virtual parody of itself - and honestly, as a geek with a few sacred cows of my own, I sympathise. Galaxy Quest is an unimpeachably awesome sci-fi/comedy classic, but it would've been awful as an actual Star Trek movie.

NEXT REVIEW: Sini Ada Hantu
Expectations: yay to more local indie directors making mainstream movies - so long as they're good


Pet Shop Boys said...

is Green Hornet this year's Kick Ass?

TMBF said...

@Pet Shop Boys: In terms of popularity? Not even close.