Friday, January 14, 2011

'Green Hornet' buzzes down, out to zzzzzz


By Steve Crum

What an odd choice, morphing a quasi-superhero genre with Jackass comedy. Make that an odd, wrong choice, since The Green Hornet is a grating misfire even before the first screech of Black Beauty’s ultra-vulcanized tires.

The movie, which overwhelms with explosions and car wrecks (in 3-D yet), is a wreck that wrecks itself. Now, that’s an underachievement. Seth Rogen, who co-produced and co-wrote The Green Hornet with Evan Goldberg, cast himself in the title role. Like the movie’s childish central character Britt Reid, he obviously had an egocentric moment, several moments, in the writing and casting.

Created by George W. Trendle, in 1936, for radio, The Green Hornet was a champion of justice, much like a modern Lone Ranger, another masked hero, except from the 19th Century West, whose roots are also in radio. Trendle created both characters, The Lone Ranger born first (1933), and even fictionally connected the two via the Reid family tree. Britt Reid/The Green Hornet is the grandnephew of John Reid aka The Lone Ranger. Both heroes had sidekicks: Tonto for the Ranger, Kato for the Hornet. The Ranger rode his great horse, Silver; The Hornet drove his great sedan, Black Beauty. And Beauty was a beast with revved up horsepower.

“He hunts the biggest of all game, public enemies who try to destroy our America!” That was the weekly intro for the radio series, which was broadcast, off and on, until 1952. A so-so Green Hornet movie serial followed in 1940, and a pretty lackluster, one season TV show came and went in 1966. (But it did feature some fun kicks and punches by Bruce Lee as Kato.) There were also Green Hornet comic books, beginning in 1940. So much for the somewhat glorious Hornet history, and now Seth Rogen has placed his dorky self in the tarnished franchise. (He always looks like he has a chaw of tobacco in his craw each time he speaks.) Evidently, the Trendle Estate gave this take its sanctioned blessing, undoubtedly swayed by the cash. Notice George W. Trendle Jr.’s name on the production credits.

What Rogen and cohorts have done, along with director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), is “re-imagine” (that’s the popular, coined word these days) Britt Reid as a spoiled late 20-something, who despises his wealthy, late father, James (Tom Wilkinson) so much he lives to destroy basically everything connected with him. There is a flashback that shows the dad’s extreme cruelty when he destroys a superhero doll young Britt adores. Britt eventually grows up in age, but lacking mental and emotional savvy.

Believe it or not, according to this movie, the first caper Reid and Kato (Jay Chou) tackle is to dress up in costumes and masks, hop in the impressive Black Beauty (created by the genius Kato), and drive to the park to literally saw off his father’s statue’s head as a prank. In fact, the breadth of the movie involves prank after prank, with Kato saving the idiot Britt’s butt in fight after fight. The Hornet just happens to encounter street gangs and thugs along the way, and blasts his way to safety (or Kato covers him), accidentally saving good people’s lives in the process. However, it is appalling that several policemen early on, pursuing in police cars, are wiped out by The Green Hornet as well. Such is the irresponsible Green Hornet persona scripted herein. Therefore, this “hero” is more often a punk felon out for a joy ride, who just happens to cross paths with the leader of the city's crime syndicate, Chudnofsky, played by last year’s Oscar winner for Inglorious Basterds, Christoph Waltz. His character is scripted as a cold blooded killer, with a large, double-barreled pistol, no less. Yet he is nearly as lame brained, and semi- humorous, as Rogen’s Hornet.

The movie’s pluses include a cameo by James Franco (127 Hours), and welcome but wasted support by Edward J. Olmos and Cameron Diaz. The car is stupendous. Actually, there are several Black Beauty vehicles in the movie, souped up with Knight Rider-like features. However, the negatives far outweigh any positives. The 3-D is wasted, having been an afterthought. (The end credits look cool with awesome depth, but that is it.) There are too many wrecks, too many explosions, too much broken glass, and a too loud soundtrack. There is an extended sequence between Kato and Reid that appears to mock the Peter Sellers’ Clouseau and (his) Kato scenes wherein they relentlessly try to out fight each other inside Clouseau’s apartment. A tribute to the late Blake Edwards, who directed the Pink Panther movies, this is not.

What should have been, could have been. It sure isn’t this Green Slacker.

Take my advice, please. Debuzz this Green Hornet, and look toward what appears to be a faithful adaptation of another early 20th Century pop culture icon, who also favors the lucky color, The Green Lantern. It opens June 17.
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GRADE On an A to F Scale: D
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