The Green Hornet Dir. Michel Gondry

[Original Film; 2011]

Styles: buddy cop, comic book adaption
Others: Mystery Men, Rush Hour, Richie Rich

If you’re reading TMT, there’s a pretty good chance you are or were at one point a Michel Gondry fan. Perhaps you, like me, spent a decent portion of your college life getting substantially high and watching the video for “Star Guitar.” Eternal Sunshine probably ranks high among movies you love. Perhaps you started losing interest or faith after The Science of Sleep — or went on the defensive and claimed that Sleep’s plotlessness was one of its strengths — and maybe you let your hopes grow a little after Be Kind Rewind. Perhaps you balked at its quirkiness? It’s hard to know how to get out in front of Gondry criticism when the ship of hipsterism so often steers in circles, but it’s likely that when you heard his next film would be a “big-budget super hero adaptation,” you felt a bit queasy.

The Green Hornet has essentially the same premise as Batman: rich kid’s parents die, rich kid uses their wealth to fight crime under an alter-ego. After his dad’s death from a bee sting, Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) decides to stop partying and takes over his father’s position at the family newspaper empire. He rehires Kato (Jay Chou), his dad’s mechanic/barista, to act as his ward. Together, they take on Los Angeles’ criminal underworld, using Kato’s various unexplained skills at gadgetry and martial arts to clean up the city while simultaneously casting themselves as villains in Reid’s paper, The Daily Sentinel. But as their relationship takes over the plot, the film’s progression becomes increasingly predictable — they grow close, fight over a girl, and make up in time for the finale — and therefore unrewarding, cultivating an experience unlike that of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in Rush Hour. Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s script even attempts to recreate the back-and-forth that served them so well in Superbad, but here it faceplants, and not just because Chou hardly knew any English before production began.

That’s not to say there’s nothing redeeming about The Green Hornet. An early exchange between a club owner (James Franco, obligatory cameo) and LA crime kingpin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) is hilarious and allows for Chudnofsky to act primarily as comic relief for the rest of the film. (Waltz is essentially reprising his role as Colonel Landa from Inglourious Basterds, but that’s not a bad thing, especially in a movie with considerable distance between its better moments.) The skills and gadgets that Kato uses are fun too, like the foldout phonograph in a car’s dashboard. But while a novel approach to fight sequences (with the actors deliberately moving at much different speeds) makes the tightly choreographed scenes at least worth viewing, the bulk of them look pretty much how you’d expect Seth Rogen action sequences to look: clumsy and confused.

It’s sad, too. What established Gondry’s reputation was his imagination: creative analog techniques are what made those early videos and Eternal Sunshine such treats to watch. They may have been relatively cheap to produce, but they were inspiring because of it. In contrast, the budget for The Green Hornet was $120 million, six times that of Eternal Sunshine and Be Kind Rewind. While Gondry occasionally makes good use of it — there are at least two montages that might as well be music videos for very expensive songs, one of which is excellent (The Rolling Stones’ “Live With Me”) — the budget is also wasted on gimmicky big-movie trademarks. After such critical acclaim for most of his career, who knew that ostentatious sets, standard-issue car chases, and Cameron Diaz would be the signifiers of Gondry’s slide into banality.

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