Let’s be honest. As soon as it was announced that Seth Rogen was going to portray a superhero in a movie version of The Green Hornet, the skepticism began. Pair it with the news that Michel Gondry, the acclaimed indie director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, would helm Rogen’s ambitious leap and, switching to a positive outlook, interest had to be peaked. Certainly not everyone was sure of The Green Hornet becoming a stalwart franchise, but pairing a pudgy star known for his stoner comedies and the creative mind behind one of the best films of the last decade had to perk up the ears of movie fans everywhere.
Please listen to me when I tell you to stand down. Reinsert your earphones and resume listening to “Doug Loves Movies”, “Filmspotting”, or another favorite movie podcast. Whatever news they have to share with you is more exciting, more newsworthy, and will undoubtedly result in a better film than the messy, boring, and altogether unsatisfying Green Hornet.
Rogen plays Britt Reid, a rich playboy living off the money of his father’s (Tom Wilkinson) media empire until his papa dies suddenly of an allergic reaction to a bee sting. Britt then assumes all the power, but none of his dad’s responsibility until he meets Kato (Jay Chou), who is also squandering his potential as the late Mr. Reid’s mechanic. The two bond over a mutual disdain for the deceased and, of course, decide to team up and fight crime.
Their plan comes about rather haphazardly. They talk about their mutual desire to do good. They get really drunk. They have a run-in with some thugs. Next thing you know, there’s montage after montage and poof! They’re superheroes. Well, not quite. Certainly you’ve seen the clip in the trailer when Rogen says to Chou, “We will pose as villains to get close to the bad guys. That way, no one will suspect we’re really the good guys.” Thus, the bad guys want to kill The Green Hornet and the cops want to arrest him.
Though it makes sense in a brief clip, within the context of the movie it’s absolutely absurd. No one has any idea who they are, so they could have smashed up meth labs and beat up thugs without declaring themselves criminals. The cops would have just assumed it was a rival gang. Then, later, when good has conquered evil, they wouldn’t have to hide anymore. It actually seems as though Rogen, who co-wrote the film with Evan Goldberg, was merely trying to find an alternate logic to reach the same conclusion as found in the recent Batman movies.
Actually using a more popular film’s thought process may have even worked better in Rogen’s take on the film. You see, there are actually two versions of The Green Hornet working together as one. The first is as written by Rogen and Goldberg, who both treat the material with a satirical wit unmatched by the film’s visual styling and dark realism. Every so often a meta-joke will pop up and draw the viewer’s attention to something preposterous. Whether it’s the mid-life crisis of the villain or Seth Rogen’s mere presence, attention is brought to the absurdity of this story at some of the oddest moments.
A key example happens during the film’s revelatory climax as Reid pieces together the mystery of what really happened to his father. After a montage of flashbacks, we cut back to the present where the evil mastermind says flat out, “Why have you been staring off into space for the last 5 minutes”? Is it a funny joke? Kind of. Has it been used a dozen times before this film? Absolutely. Does it fit into a world where we’re asked again and again to believe Reid and Kato could die at any given moment? Hell no. This gritty, real-world version has to come from Gondry, who I imagine struggled with the comic book concept from the get go.
Of course, the extras on the DVD offer little from Mr. Gondry unless you want to listen to the sporadically funny filmmakers’ commentary featuring the director, Rogen, Goldberg, and Neil Moritz, one of the film’s producers. They share plenty of behind-the-scenes stories and give a good deal of background on the production, but don’t expect any explanations for the abrupt tonal shifts. There’s plenty of explanation from Rogen and Goldberg during a ten minute feature on the writing process and a seven minute exploration of what went into creating the Black Beauty (GH’s car). The duo is very open about their process and they seem proud of the final product (even if they admit to a few flaws during the commentary).
I’m glad someone is satisfied. No, really. Watching The Green Hornet, one can tell there was a good deal of effort put into it. Individual scenes stand out in both versions. Rogen has some truly clever moments. Gondry has some intriguing “look at what I can do with a camera” flashes. Unfortunately, as extraordinary as Rogen and Gondry can be in their own respective proficiencies, their combined forces salvage only the smallest bits and pieces of their separate brilliance. They may get along on set, but the end result does not reflect either of their best works. Instead, it’s as odd and uneven as it first appeared to be.