All the buzz in the world is not going to make the latest incarnation of the beloved 75-year-old radio/serial/comic book legend a fond memory for many viewers this month. Sure, it’ll win the holiday weekend box office race and maybe, ultimately, recoup its reported $130+ million dollar budget, but there’s a dry feeling in the back of my throat and a little nausea in my gut as I try to figure out all the lame things Hollywood has done to this coulda, woulda, shoulda been franchise over the course of this 2-hour excursion. It’s the first of many movies released in 2011 featuring adored other-media-based superheroes, and, no doubt, there’s nowhere to go but up, I pray. And, within the superhero sub-genre, it’s also the first green release. Let’s hope the next (“The Green Lantern,” scheduled to light up screens on June 17th) is a better environmental and entertaining experience.
Columbia Pictures should have had an inkling that slimmed-down Seth Rogen was not the right person for writing (with Evan Goldberg, with whom he created the hilarious “Superbad”) a suitably serious tale of the carefree, party-loving, ne’er-do-well son of a Los Angeles media magnate. The project already had a bad rep before footage was shown at Comic-Con last summer. Known for his slovenly endearing roles, Rogen’s casting as the star polarized many in fanboy circles. Could the star of “Knocked Up” and other broad comedies make the leap? He might have, but it should have been at the mercy of a better, and more appropriate, script.
It’s not like they didn’t have enough time to get it right. Back in 1997, then big shot music video director Michel Gondry was hired to helm an adaptation, in what would have been his feature debut. This is five years after Universal tried to put a new spin on the character, with Eddie Murphy and then George Clooney mentioned as a possible leading man. Other adaptations, stars, and directors paraded through the creative process before Gondry, a dozen years after he thought he was making his first movie, was back on board, mostly because of his pitch on the inventive “kato vision” used in the film. Now I am a huge fan of Gondry’s Oscar-winning (for original screenplay by Charlie Kaufman) “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” a complex fantasy cleverly directed, featuring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as lovers racing against time and induced memory loss. It was the best film of 2004, in my opinion. Marvelously creative and containing one of the finest, along with “The Truman Show,” non-comedic performances from Carrey. That artistic spark is what I was hoping to see in the director’s new film, but it left me, sadly, cookie cutter cold.
After the “The Green Hornet” finished filming, there was the now-too-lame-and-all-too-often effort converting a flat 2-D film for 3-D regurgitation, followed by the studio’s kiss of death, switching the release date off from for-award-consideration’s December 22nd to cinema’s Siberia of January 14th.
Fans of the short-lived mid-1960s TV series featuring Van Williams and Bruce Lee (who gets a brief cameo in the current film, albeit only as a black-and-white sketch) will be disappointed with the characters, many of whom would be better suited by cardboard cut outs. Rogen may think he can flip on the superhero switch with “This is awesome” exhortations, but you can’t. Sidekick Kato (played by Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou), at least, retains enough common sense to keep his boss from steering all of Kato’s incredibly souped-up cars, and the film, into a Golden Raspberry. Chou may speak little English, but he’s got a nice charisma, good timing, and an amiable personality for which better films await.
As for the supporting cast, let’s start with Cameron Diaz, who appears in yet another film for which she is the object of everyone’s affection. Enough already! There’s little range in her Lenore Case, investigative secretary or someone like that, working for Britt Reid (Rogen), whose father (Tom Wilkerson) ran the ‘Daily Sentinel’ until his unfortunate demise, supposedly from a nasty bee sting. Bad guy Christopher Waltz is Chudnofsky, an enjoyable character that must be an offspring from Colonel Hans Landa, the Academy Award winning role he filled in “Inglourious Basterds.” I have no problem with his villainy. Loved him in the Tarantino film, and loved him in this one, but it’s basically the same determined, off-kilter madness on display in both films. James Franco does a small cameo as an L.A. gangster.
While not an unmitigated disaster, the movie reminded me of little boys trying, poorly, to imitate the Three Stooges, who spent 23 glorious years at the same studio now shoveling “The Green Hornet” to us. Those icons I laughed at. Unfortunately, along the Rogen-Goldberg-Gondry comic highway, “The Green Hornet” speeds along without adequate concern for its origins. Played for comedy, whatever jokes tossed the audience’s way, quickly fall flatly to the popcorn-littered floor.