RIORI Vol. 3, Installment 5: Michel Gondry’s “The Green Hornet” (2011)


The Players…

Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz and Cameron Diaz, with Edward James Olmos, David Harbour, Tom Wilkinson and a very funny cameo from James Franco.

The Story…

When careless Britt Reid’s newspaper mogul father dies accidentally, he has to man up and take over his old man’s media empire. Britt? He’s a slovenly, self-entitled trust-fund bastard. All he needs is himself, partying, girls, that’s all and forget the family business. But after one night when a prank goes wrong, and he’s inadvertently falls into the belly of LA’s crime beast, he has an epiphany. All these low-lives are running the city—the city Dad always wrote about and exposed its dark side—and almost nearly ruined Britt. Nothing like your balloon being popped to wake you up. So he and his buddy Kato do the only rational thing in response: become superheroes…with a really bitchin’ ride.

The Rant…

Sex sells, as the popular axiom goes. You know what comes in second? Nostalgia.

If you were there, you might remember back in the 90’s when all those movies based on TV shows and radio serials came out. If you weren’t, here you go: Some Hollywood exec got a wild hair up his ass one day and figured, “Hey, nostalgia’s always a big draw for audiences. Look at The Big Chill, or Diner, or even Back to the Future? And what’s a better source of nostalgia that being reminded of the slapdash fun of the old television and radio shows that built freakin’ pop culture? They need the big treatment!”

Um. Well. Not sure why those type of shows were elected as cinema fodder. I’ve always assumed the 50-year-old-plus demographic was more or less non-existent. My guess is that in a rare show of cynicism on Hollywood’s part, no one from the crucial 16-24 age demo would’ve ever even heard of the likes of any radio serials from yesteryear. Let alone know what a f*cking radio serial is. So a play on viewer ignorance was gambled. More often than not, Hollywood came up trumps.

Now I wasn’t party to the executive meeting, so I’m just basing that scenario on my very lopsided, maligned view of the Hollywood movie machine. It might have more truth than we’d like to admit. Most of these adaptations had middling results at best or just plain fell short. There were the good ones (The Fugitive, Dick Tracy), the not so good (Lost in Space, The Shadow) and the goddam terrible (The Beverly Hillbillies, The Phantom. Curse you, Billy Zane).

Right. So in the last decade of the 20th Century, Hollywood got its sniffer going on the very old nostalgia train and began rooting through the vaults of classic TV and radio to find material for movie updates. Easy money, that; securing the rights to half-forgotten stories must’ve been hella cheap. Low price tag notwithstanding, most of the end results sucked miles of c*ck. Don’t quote me on this, but I think this might’ve been the start of the “reboot trend” that’s omnipresent in movie making today, by which I mean use an established format that proved successful (read: profitable), lather, rinse repeat and watch the cash come oozing in. With the TV-as-movie thing, it worked for a while. When McHale’s Navy finally got the silver screen treatment, there was the tipping point and America threw up it hands. Okay, that’s when I threw up my hands. Maybe I just threw up rather.

In hindsight, I really can’t figure out the big-screen TV/radio model. Other than the novelty of “big stars” and bigger budgets to ensure the movie adaptation will be…well, big, why bother seeing it rather than the already successful TV shows they were based? I mean, not all small successes demand a new wheel. Did The Flintstones need to be upgraded? Why am I even asking?

Still, it can’t be said that the TV/radio cum movie trend was a total waste. There were a few bright spots. I mentioned The Fugitive (which got an Oscar nod for Best Pic, believe it or not). There also was the Mission: Impossible franchise, the very tongue-in-cheek Maverick, and what Monty Python got to do with a bigger budget was nothing short of hysterical. And if you wanna get technical, there was another legacy show that got the royal treatment.

Don’t worry. I am going somewhere with this. Sit down and shut up.

Let’s set the way-back machine to the mid-60s. There was this big hit TV series showcasing screwy, heroic adventures, was chockfull of dastardly villains, byzantine plots, silly costumes, a little social commentary, and also a very chic place to make a cameo. And no, we’re not talking the original Star Trek here. Good guess though, especially with the whole “guest-starring” bit.

We’re talking the original Batman, starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as the (man) boy-wonder Robin. Yeah! The corny, campy duo that sets right what their rogues’ gallery sets to undo week after week ensuring Gotham is a safe place to ransack again next week. It was corn-tastic, rife with Jarlsberg dialogue, stupid plots (most of it not a little too removed from the source material) and with enough of a pop cultural cachet to even have Bobby Kennedy request a cameo (for real!). If Tim Burton’s Batman wasn’t an obvious vehicle to tap onto the Hollywood nostalgia TV wagon here, the timing sure was. The Baby Boomers as kids caught Batman on TV and later took their kids to Batman on the big screen. I think some were half-expecting goofiness, since director Burton’s previous effort was 1988’s Beetlejuice. Who knows?

Batman, like a lot of TV shows back then, were upgrades from radio shows. It was the march of time in the media world; Superman, the Lone Ranger, Dick Tracy, all those guys got started on the AM band. Making them into television shows was the next logical step. And like the movie/TV craze a quarter-century ago, there were plenty of wells to plumb to morph once-profitable radio shows into TV series to wedge between ads. At any rate, Batman the TV show became the quintessential iteration of this move. The TV series beget Batman the movie (and its increasingly embarrassing sequels) 20 years later. Doubtless all this exchanging of funds from radio to TV to movie has something to do with that. Not to mention cashing in on the nostalgia ticket. Remember The Wonder Years? Shameless pandering to the Boomers, believe you me. 1989’s Batman was not all that different.

Burton’s Batman, despite its massive budget, top tier stars and its dark and brooding Gotham, still had a lot of winks and nods to the old TV show. Besides Jack Nicholson’s overreaching portrayal of the Joker, there were bits and pieces of camp and comedy spattered throughout the film. Again, little doubt throwing a bone to the older generation. Burton shrewdly knew that he had to straddle the fence between attracting and not alienating the old school fan base while at the same time enticing younger audiences—with their flammable dollars—to come see the show.

What presaged Batman making his big budget splash was this: syndication of the old TV show. I remember as a kid, West and Ward’s Dynamic Duo reruns got heavy rotation on local affiliates. In hindsight this might have been the soft sell to get folks to see the eventual movie proper. Worked for me.

I found the show funny, dumb, corny and poorly choreographed (Bam! Splat!), yet oddly watchable. There was a factor in play that wasn’t even inhaled by the Boomers then and would barely send a whiff to the Millennials: THIS SH*T WAS MEANINGLESS, STUPID FUN. For real. I mean, hey, I watched the crap relentlessly as a kid. It might’ve been because it was summertime and there were only stupid reruns on all the time. But I doubt that the Boomers found Batman pithy, regardless of its social commentary, but rather action of the highest regard. I mean, check out that jet-powered Batmobile! With a siren on top! The jet thing was even carried over to the movie’s Batmobile.

Today’s generation would find the old program nothing more than sad and laughable—a fair assessment all things considered—and would only tune in out of being all ironic. Kids, there was a time where irony was not just buying the tee-shirt. Trust me. Gen X perfected cynicism and irony. By the way, you’re welcome for the Internet being scrubbed as best it can be.

*squeegees bile off screen*

But back in the 60s, the Batman TV series was huge. It became a cultural phenomenon. It had like over 100 episodes in three years. Baloney-fed Adam West was a sex symbol, before God. It was so popular, as I mentioned, that celebrity guest-stars and cameos abounded. Actors of the day would line up in droves to be a guest star on the show. Vincent Price, Burgess Merideth, Julie Newmar, Eli Wallach, Joan Collins and even “Mr. Television” Milton Berle all made recurring appearances on the show. This is not to mention the “wall-crawling” gimmick employed in the show where the aforementioned cameos popped out a window to chat up Batman and Robin. Folks like Sammy Davis, Jr., Dick Clark, Jerry Lewis, Edward G Robinson, the Green Hornet and Kato—

Wait. What? (Told ya I was going somewhere.)

Not unlike an infamous episode of the original Star Trek series (it was called “Assignment: Earth” BTW, and it failed as a gateway to Roddenberry’s next sci-fi show, as well as being one of the worst eps of Star Trek ever) the network used the popularity of Batman to serve as a launch pad for their next superhero show, The Green Hornet. Like the TV/movies of the 90s, Hornet was originally a radio serial. The guys behind Batman wanted to capitalize on their show’s popularity by introducing the next superhero team that would surely eat up the airwaves.

Well—surprise, surprise—it didn’t. The show played straight to the goofiness of its parent show, and I guess at the time audiences weren’t in the mood for “serious superheroes.” Hell, even TV’s Superman George Reeves was a humorous, light-hearted and gentle guy, not the conflicted Kryptonian we know and love today. The Green Hornet as TV wasn’t a total loss though. It did manage to survive one full season, and got some respectable reviews. More importantly, the show introduced a grateful world to Bruce Lee, who played Van Williams’ valet and kung fu sidekick Kato. What was the neat sticking point of the short-lived series, which was pleasantly not campy like Batman was (the producers must’ve heard the air going out of Batman’s whoopee cushion and tried an about face towards better ratings elsewhere). It was also probably the first interracial team-up in prime time TV. Yeah, yeah, there was Jay “Tonto” Silverheels on The Lone Ranger, but he was played more like a subordinate. On The Green Hornet, however, despite Kato being the Hornet’s aide-de-camp, Lee’s character wasn’t a stereotype and more or less an equal—as far as characterization was concerned. Lee’s Kato was sharp, tough, funny and also did a lot of winks-and-nods to the audience about who was the “real brains” of the Hornet’s operation. Though the show was short-lived, Hornet had it’s moment in the sun thanks to Lee, who we all know went on to bigger, better, more ass-kicking things.

I guess based on that small cachet alone, The Green Hornet earned the latest—quite possibly last—radio/TV-to-movie adaptation treatment. However, the fact it dropped in 2011 is kind of puzzling; raping and pillaging the video vaults for celluloid destruction is so last century. Especially if it’s ravening for delights a big budget allows, with their name stars and a director who’s been known to make good on colorful movie promises.

Hang on. More on that later. The answers will come. Have faith…

The curious thing about print media—magazines, tabloids and above all established newspapers—in the 21st Century is that, despite all the competition from the Internet and social media, established, well-written newspapers can still be bastions of not only delivering the news, but also an inexpensive gateway into world we live in, at home or abroad. The most successful papers can defy the law of diminishing returns by wit, grit, great writing and integrity. It’s how most media empires started a century ago. Ask Hearst.

James Reid (Wilkinson) established said media empire with The Daily Sentinel, LA’s last independent newspaper. With only his hard-nosed approach to the telling the truth about the ugly aspects of the City of Angels, he stands tall above the other easily bought-and-sold journalists that plagued the city. He’s had his pulse on the finger of LA, and has reported all the glam, glitz, shams and sh*ts that the city represents, his integrity never wavering.

Then there’s his son, Britt (Rogen).

To call wastrel Britt a party animal is akin to calling a junkie a “heroin fancier.” He’s been living off The Sentinel’s—and his dad’s—millions for over, like, two decades. And what does Britt have to show for it? Damage fees for reckless parties, endless hangovers and babes laid waste in his bed whom he can’t even remember their names (okay, so it ain’t all bad).

James demands of Britt time and again as to how could he take over the family business when he’s endlessly recovering from one night of debauchery onto the next morning of debauchery? Britt assures his father that he has plans, or rather really good excuses.

But when James dies unexpectedly, it falls to Britt to head up The Sentinel in his father’s stead. Britt always knew his dad was a scion—albeit dickish—of hard-nosed truth. What’s Britt? A walking bar tab. There’s no bloody way he could ever run a first rate newspaper, especially since daddy held the reigns for so long. Britt soon realizes, away from the Jacuzzi and the endless open bars, not only that he’s wholly incapable of filling dad’s shoes, he can barely fill his own.

It takes a lousy cup of coffee one day—a threat to his hallmark of self-entitlement—to get Britt’s dander up. Who’s responsible for this swill? It wasn’t James Reid’s mechanic Kato (Chou), who has a gift regarding not only coffee, but also custom-made tech in general. Turns out that Kato became James’ valet, but wasn’t too keen on it. He would’ve bailed years ago, but the opportunity to work on James’ collection of classic cars proved to be too much of a temptation. Kato was such a good little elf, James gave him free reign of his garage to indulge in all of his tech ideas, some of which James actually green-lit.

Dad never green-lit anything to Britt, not even respect.

Anyway, Kato earned the respect Britt never had. Such a drag. But after a long day of espresso, beer and the sense of self-righteousness they bring—also the pair having no love lost for their late benefactor—Britt and Kato decide to defile the late James’ headstone as a drunken lark. In Kato’s souped-up ride, it’s off to the cemetery.

But things go all tits-up, as they often do.

Before Britt could hiccup, a crew of toughs assault a young couple—a simple, easily ignored story that James Reid would’ve reported. With only the zeal drunken panic can bring, Britt lays a haymaker to a thug and Kato kung-fus his way through the rest. Both bail and thank their lucky asses that no innocents got hurt. But this altercation—aeons away from Britt’s cushy bed—plants a seed. This was a random act of violence in the City, but it happens everyday. Not to Britt, or even Kato. But to see it, hell get involved in it? Britt and Kato aren’t cops. The police have bigger fish to fry.

But this sh*t happens all the time. And a lot of criminal bigwigs—the kind of d*ckheads Britt’s dad would fearlessly expose—profit off of these muggings. The scales fall from Britt’s eyes, assisted by too much adrenaline. It felt good to save some people, someone other than himself. First time for everything.

After all the ballyhoo, Britt shares many more beers with Kato, and both get all amped when the local TV news captures their exploits.

“We’re heroes!” Britt screams. And that’s when it really hits him. The words planted by his late dad coming out of his mouth.

Britt figures that the best way to thwart the organized crime gangs’ activities is to create a target; a united front, if you will, against an uber-criminal. Put the whole “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” axiom to the test. When all the thugs are after the guy whose been scotching all their delicate affairs of drug-dealing, extortion and creating general mayhem, they’ll get all reckless in pursuit and the cops’ll have easy leads to follow.

Britt and Kato—with his gift for tech—will become superheroes! No! Anti-heroes!

Only old school crime boss Chudnofsky (Waltz) ain’t buying this latest scam in a lifetime of scams.

Chudnofsky has been around. He’s been a serpent slinking the gutters of LA long before Britt and Kato’s antics were barely a fart in the wind. Whoever the calling card belongs to, Chudnofsky has no pretense—or fear—of any marginally successful upstart that might potentially upset his delicate balance of crime and profit. Who gives a sh*t how cool his ride is, or his getup? Or his kung fu sidekick? And what real criminal leaves actual calling cards at the scenes of their crimes? Idiots. There’s a lot to be said for being quiet, methodical and carrying a double-barreled pistol.

That’s the trouble with interlopers confusing themselves as would-be crime fighters: it’s always spectacle over substance.

Not unlike the headlines on The Daily Sentinel, now run under the auspices of a lushy, spoiled, ne’er-do-well with a green mask, a boss ride and a kung fu/tech master wingman who patiently waits for his time in the sun, Britt’s alter-ego The Green Hornet exposes crime in a more in-your-face way than the paper ever could.

Now if only Britt could keep off of the f*cking chaise lounge, pool-side…

How Hornet plays out ties in directly with it’s troubled birth. When I asked earlier as to why this kind of film adaptation—after its brethren died a cold death at the turn of the century—was made in 2011 when the practice is so outré, the truth is odd. Well, not really considering how Hollywood works (which I’m still trying to figure out, and may never do). Anyway, I don’t think the nostalgia tag alone was reason enough why Hornet had to become reality. I think it was partly out of frustration.

Y’ever hear of “Production Hell?”

For those who haven’t, here you go (for those who have, feel free to skip ahead, you lazy sods): sometimes a movie project fails to get off the ground, despite all the hype and/or goodwill Hollywood dumps into its development. But no matter how much press and promise the execs deliver, sometimes movie projects just can’t gain traction. Be it budgetary concerns, securing a good script and/or writer, casting disputes or just a lot of hurry up and wait, some movies just languish as concepts rather than actual productions. Said concepts linger in the Hollywood backwaters—endlessly on hiatus—in what is know as “production hell.” A good example of this is another movie covered here at RIORI: the eventual execution of Watchmen by Barnum-like director Zack Snyder. That film fell under the guidelines of The Standard in every which way, but not might have if the film hadn’t decayed in production hell for 20 years since its initial proposal.

Hornet is another casualty of production hell. To answer the question of why make a movie based on a radio show well into the 21st Century? How that creatively bankrupt ship sailed lies within the kooky machinations of production hell. Hornet was originally slated for release in 1997. Nineteen. Ninety. Seven. That’s almost fifteen years prior to the film’s eventual release. It was also back then that the TV/radio show-as-movie trend was in full swing. The only reason I can divine as to why Hornet finally saw the light of day was to cash in on this century’s current version of movies lifted from Michael Crichton novels: the superhero gimmick.

Right. I mentioned that Hornet as a visual entertainment spawned from the Batman series. Technically the Green Hornet wasn’t a comic book superhero, but sort of sided that way thanks to Bats. Then again, I often shamefully point the finger at Hollywood for trying to make a buck based on audience’s ignorance, which they often succeed. These kids don’t know nuffin about no Batman teevee show, let alone some offshoot with a dead martial arts legend as actor! Crank it out! Let’s see if she sails!

Cynical you say? Damn skippy. You know how marketing works: if it makes money, ram it into the ground. Keep it going as fast as f*ck as possible before the bubble eventually pops. Besides, folks these days have attention spans like gnats on Red Bull. Entertain the brutes! It’s akin to the old Doritios slogan: crunch all you want, we’ll make more.

Hmm. Well, perhaps Hornet was better off in production hell. Hollywood sure didn’t profit much from its eventual birth. As an example to how a film gets mired down in production hell, Hornet suffered from the trifecta of roadblocks that keep a movie’s production down in the trenches.

First, a suitable director couldn’t be scored. Believe it or not, director Gondry was approached back in ’97 to helm the project. This was well before he entered the spotlight with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Hornet was supposed to be his debut film, but it got passed on and on to the likes of Stephen Chow and even Kevin Smith—who I think under his watchful eye might have made the movie work betterbefore eventually landing back in Gondry’s lap again. Hot potato, hot potato. Here we went on the money-go-round.

Then there was the writing team to consider. The likes of Edward “Robocop” Neumeier and Christopher “The Usual Suspects” McQuarrie were tapped, but it finally fell to Rogen and buddy Evan Goldberg to create a new script from scratch, eschewing the hard line the original Hornet had and instead injecting their usual goofball histrionics into their final product. In all fairness, Hornet was funny, but perhaps too much so to translate into an action movie. The final product is slathered in the ribald tones of Knocked Up and Superbad.

Finally, the casting. Uh, no one fit the bill as the leads. So since Rogen and Goldberg held the pen, and no one else could be qualified to deliver the lines, Rogen got to wear the mask (ably backed by Chou’s Kato). Rogen is the anti-leading man, and the last guy you’d ever smell to don the cape as some superhero, radio show or no. Doubtless that this also was gimmick, maybe capitalizing on the comic actor’s rising star in order to pull a bait-and-switch as he’d pull a Michael Keaton like in Burton’s Batman.

No. Not really. Not at all. The Green Hornet was your typical Rogen farce, but with some really boss action scenes tempered with his trademark snarky repartee. Take it or leave it. By its turnout, I don’t think most folks took to The Green Hornet.

The overriding theme of the movie is what I call “controlled hamminess.” The acting isn’t bad. It’s serviceable, but it lends very little weight necessary for an action vehicle, even if it’s a comedic romp like this one. I’ll cut to the chase: as far as I can see, regardless of the role he’s in, Rogen will always be a schlumpy quip machine. It’s his bread-and-butter, and he’s in that mode 100% of the time. It goes so far as when I once saw him on CNN espousing the need for congress to grant more research money for further studies in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, and even that delivery was riddled with jokes and barbs. CNN. Congress. Alzheimer’s. Yuk yuk yuk.

Don’t misunderstand me. Rogen is a funny guy, and he gets a lot of good lines in the movie (hell, he wrote half of them), but wisecracks alone does not make for an endearing lead. Does he have to mug in every movie he’s in, really? His Britt Reid as reckless hero can only go so far on one-liners alone. The schtick gets repetitive, and what’s really repetitive is the reserved scenery chewing, the aforementioned ham in action.

The whole cast is a combo of ciphers and caricatures. We have our spoiled brat Britt, sage Kato who knows everything (this is not an exaggeration. Kato knows everything), bubbly and over-eager Cameron Diaz—who seems to be revisiting her role from 1994’s The Mask—as Britt’s secretary and Waltz as an underworld boss with an inferiority complex. We got no subtlety with this rogues gallery, which makes for a very one-sided movie watching experience.

I say one-sided because the movie feels like it’s ignoring the audience. The cast is clearly having a ball tearing it up on screen, but like a heated conversation you’re witnessing, not contributing to, you kind of want to tap Rogen and Chou on the shoulders and say, “Hey guys? Remember me?” Nah. More jokes! More explosions! More drinking!

Still, this one-sidedness lends a few perks. If you don’t give a sh*t what the audience thinks, then you’re free to ramp it up, get all hammy, flip us the bird and carry on, carry on. And boy, does Hornet carry on. It can best be described as having an odd, anti-Lethal Weapon vibe. The movie’s a “buddy cop” story to be sure, and Rogen and Chou have chemistry with good humor, and their antics not only create a mixed bag of funny/action, but cement the whole “who gives a sh*t?” feel to the movie.

The ham-tastic acting also adds to this lightheartedness. All the players have a just slightly under the radar one-dimensional characterization that adds to the humor without making it dissolve into pure camp. The comedy aspect helps a lot, especially since the action takes a back seat a lot of the time. I’ll admit I was snickering a lot watching Hornet, almost exclusively at Rogen’s wisecracks. Chou got a few good lines in too, but on the whole, it was Rogen’s show all the way. It kind of reflected the mentality of the original Hornet TV show. Van Williams’ Britt Reid/Green Hornet played it very straight, almost dry and totally opposite Rogen’s constant jokey banter. Williams never cracked a smile, but Lee did.

Back in the day, when the classic Green Hornet show was on air, it was considered a joke—a passive joke, mind you—that Kato was the true brains of the outfit. The “man behind the curtain” if you will. That subtle character dynamic comes to the fore here as an outright gag, almost as a refresher lending some seriousness to the job of superheroics against Britt’s endless, clueless bantering. It also enhances some racist undertones, which were decidedly shied away from on the TV show.

The movie does seem to exaggerate said undertones on the TV series. Very little then—being the progressive 60’s—put Williams or Lee under the lens as the first interracial team of heroes. I’d like to think that Lee was such a charming actor, such room for either bleeding-heart white guilt or shooting a spotlight on the mixed team-up made the whole social context superfluous. Williams and Lee made a good team, straight up. While Williams was grim, determined crime-fighter, Lee got to be funny, smart and lighthearted in his role as the “subordinate” sidekick. He got the best action scenes overall.

The on-the-nose social commentary or maybe exercise in irony to the layman is played to the hilt here in the movie. C’mon, for those who saw it, is what we want to remember from the TV show as a complement to Batman—with all its corniness—merely the introducing the first inter-racial duo (Okay, I suppose I Spy did it first, but that show was all about subtly, going along with its whole “espionage” theme. I wasn’t remembered for high action—let alone kung fu—only a very young, pre-rape accusation Bill Cosby palling around with TV stalwart Robert Cup) or the launch pad for Bruce Lee’s rise to fame? The implications were vital then but hackneyed now. Why play on this play-for-keeps spin for entertainment’s sake? It’s really weak and insulting, very uncool for 2011. It’s a glaring black spot on an otherwise lighthearted and funny film.

Another aspect about the movie—and other would-be, 21st Century comedies of its ilk—I disliked it the endless, winking pop culture in-jokes injected into a story that is ultimately designed for an audience-at-large to not get said in-jokes. The whole thing I said about not giving a sh*t about what the audience cares for can be freeing, but when taken too far you are really alienating the audience. After a while, the jokes morph into the standard, razor-thin plot of your typical episode of Family Guy. Sure, the cast and crew get it, but shame on you dear viewer for missing the joke. Too bad you weren’t there at the brainstorming session at Columbia. It’s just baiting for the fading demo, and rather cynical for the rising.

Still, for all its broad and lenient takes on the legacy, Hornet is terribly amusing, something the old radio serials and TV eps were not. Decidely not. Back then, “serious” superhero show just plumb didn’t exist. Hell, refer back to Batman. Nowadays, most comic book movies are besotted with drama, gravitas, endless navel-gazing only punctuated with the occasional one-liner or winking joke. It’s a Shakespearean thing: inject comedy right before tragedy to amplify the drama. It’s been done so often over the past decade that a would-be superhero flick littered with non-stop jokes, puns, wisecracks bucks the trend. This might be the most refreshing—and eventual downfall—of Hornet. It goes too far here. We’ve been set up across two acts to fall into the trap of info-dump in the third.

Hornet’s third act seems forced, especially after 90 minutes of joking and rather nifty, albeit limited action scenes. At this point, it’s all about the collateral damage. There’s so much of it one should only see it as an extension of the winking joke running throughout the film. The final scenes, with all their whiz-bang, are incredibly forced. It’s like Gondry and company made a bum’s rush to compensate for all the fluff in the first two-thirds of the movie to inject a bit of heaviness now. So much so that the resolution and Britt’s redemption are crammed into maybe three minutes (at most) of hard story before sh*t starts getting all kerblooey again.

And holy f*ck do Gondry, Rogen, Goldberg and their accomplices throw everything into the kitchen sink and crashing through the window. After 90 minutes of a left-of-center action/comedy with a few cool scenes of chaos, Gondry tears the lid off the pot and the rest is pyrotechnics, shattered glass, more of that hamminess condensed like a can of Campbell’s and crazy car chases through multiple floors of an office complex. Extension of the jokes? You decide (I already did: yes).

Yeah, The Green Hornet was a big joke. It either ended up that way between all the nonsense the project was smothered with in production hell or the comedy Cuisinart treatment it got from Rogan and Goldberg. There were a some cool action scenes, rather funny one-liners from Rogen, Chou’s Kato was great (albeit an over-inflated version of Lee’s character from back in the day), those Black Beauties were awesome and Diaz wore a lot of short skirts. But overall, Hornet was jumbled, and came across as a relic of a time far removed from 2011. And now that I mention it, since Hornet was on the whole an action/comedy a la Lethal Weapon, thumbing its nose at all the rampant, heavy comic book movies of our time, wouldn’t this jumble be considered a relevant balloon-popping of the relentless Marvel titles gumming up the multiplexes now?

I dunno. Maybe. In the long run, despite its glaring flaws, Hornet was entertaining. Sideswiped of the nostalgia ticket and fingering its fellow comic movie contemporaries. It was dumb, and that’s not always a bad thing. In a cinema world of guys in tights waxing way too philosophical on the nature of being, a good fart joke is almost always welcome before the credits roll.

Oh yeah. That whole nostalgia market? Just keep your cards close to your chest. Whatever you personally regard as representative of your Golden Years Hollywood will never catch. They’re too busy trying to capitalize on someone else’s, who’s probably already dead.

Hornet sting!

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. I’m only saying so because I didn’t dislike The Green Hornet outright. It’s a lousy superhero movie, but it also doesn’t really try to be a good one. Consider it a time-waster; something you’d find on the TV some boring Saturday afternoon, with you having nothing else to do but tune in. It’s chewing gum, and that’s okay from time to time. Plus it’s funny, which is never really truly wasteful.

Stray Observations…

  • “My gun has two barrels. That’s not boring.”
  • Hornet has a lot of blue language for a PG-13 movie. Good.
  • “We’re just two guys who stole a head.”
  • The Black Beauty’s headlights are green. Nice touch.
  • “See you in an hour…”
  • Boy, Edward Furlong has really fallen on hard times.
  • “You need nunchuks then…”
  • Fun fact: The Green Hornet turned out to be quite the hit in Lee’s homeland, doubtless due to the “local boy from Hong Kong does good” story. The Chinese knew Bruce’s TV debut as The Kato Show. For the few Yanks that caught it, it was easy to see why.
  • “That’s a very big gun.”
  • I heard once that Adam West complained in the movie press that he wasn’t considered for a re-cast as his classic Caped Crusader role for Burton’s movie. This was in 1989. The TV series aired almost a quarter-century prior, Adam. Do the math.
  • “Go be a journalist! I’ll kick ass!”
  • The Black Beauty getting plowed under…I saw that ep of Mythbusters. Maybe you did too.
  • “Hand over the sushi!”
  • Hornet has a very cool, very eclectic soundtrack. Any movie that dares to bookend Vivaldi with Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise” deserves some mention.
  • “Let’s roll, Kato.”

Next Installment…

According to the NYPD’s criminal records archive, 1981 was A Most Violent Year.


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