July 23, 2012

EJO Review: The Green Hornet

Being unable to sleep on twelve-hour flights to Korea means I end up stuck watching many hours of crap new releases. (Remember The Book of Eli? Yeah, I watched it on one of those flights, and there were only two walkouts! *rimshot*) Most of them are pretty forgettable time-wasters, though I do remember laughing continuously through the last 40 or so minutes of Rise of the Battle of the Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (yet another film in which Andy Serkis's CGI creation has more warmth and genuine human emotion than any of the actors actually on screen). I remember seeing That Mummy Movie With Jet Li in It and thinking it sucked. Then I immediately watched Jumper and thought, you know, That Mummy Movie wasn't all that bad. Next came Wanted--a film based on a comic book created by a man who apparently thinks Frank Miller's writing is too warm and sympathetic and filled with the triumph of the human spirit--and twenty minutes into it I was longing for all life in the universe to end.

Because I've seen WantedThe Green Hornet (2012), starring Seth Rogen (*gulp*) and Jay Chou (who?), isn't even bad enough to be worth discussing. Sure, it sucks, but I've seen Disaster Movie, a film so bad Donald Rumsfeld wouldn't authorize its use on suspected terrorists. So why am I talking about The Green Hornet? Because I'm struggling with a vital spiritual question that sprang unbidden into my mind while watching it: Why the hell is God in this film?

No, really. I remember sitting through this mess, having not yet cracked a smile despite Rogen's antics, and then suddenly He was there. He had maybe two lines and was gone. He shows up in maybe three scenes total. If all the footage of Him they included in the movie amounts to even a page of script, I'd be astonished. Why you would hire God to be in your film if you don't have anything for Him to do is a big question, but a bigger one is why He in His wisdom would agree to take this nothing role in a crappy Seth Rogen flick. I guess He does work in mysterious ways!

God plays the role of Mike Axford, by all accounts the one who ought to be running the newspaper that is instead put in the hands of Rogen's Britt Reid (the titular zero--I'm sorry, I meant hero, really) when his old man bites it. Britt is an irresponsible, overprivileged slacker with no skills, training, or competence in anything other than using money he didn't earn to get drunk and bed trashy women--wait, you already knew that? Oh that's right, because he's played by Seth freaking Rogen. Taiwanese actor Jay Chou plays Kato, the elder Reid's personal mechanic, inventor, martial arts expert, and coffee maker. That's right, our Kato is a regular Renaissance man, able to single-handedly build a car that is bulletproof and has color-changing paint and no-flat tires and a license plate switcher and hidden machine guns and ejector seats, kung fu the bejeezus out of multiple armed attackers without breaking a sweat or any of them so much as laying a glove on him, and make a damn fine cup of coffee.

Now all this absurdity could work in a comedy. Sadly, the filmmakers opted not to make a comedy, since there is precious little that's funny about this film. Are we supposed to laugh that Kato--the same essentially invincible Kato that I just described, who repeatedly does all the work of taking out the bad guys while Britt just stands around looking useless (there are even a number of "jokes" about this) and never so much as takes a punch--that Kato can't take out the pudgy, clumsy, untrained Britt when they get into the obligatory fistfight? And lest you think it's because Kato doesn't want to open up a can on his friend and hurt him, after Britt puts him through a table(!), Kato gets up, enraged, and declares, "Now I'm gonna hurt you!" Yet Britt is still rather implausibly able to stand up to Kato in hand-to-hand combat. I guess it's because Kato doesn't use his ability to slip into the Matrix and superimpose red lines over enemies and/or their weapons. (The film is very sloppy about what the red lines indicate.) How did he gain this ability to enter bullet-time and see his enemies and/or their weapons as red lines? I don't know, and I don't think anybody involved with the film does, either.

Britt becomes the zero (oops, there I go again)--hero when he comes up with this Clever Plan: He and Kato will become superheroes who pretend to be supervillains, because then the other villains can't try to influence them by threatening to kill civilians. I'm not kidding; that's really his plan. Somehow, the villains are dumb enough to buy this, thinking he is a rival gang leader muscling in on their turf even though he has no henchmen, no drug labs or distribution networks or anything to suggest he is in any way replacing them, and no corrupt cops or politicians or anyone on any kind of payroll.

Much merriment is made of Kato's lack of a cool superhero name, even though he's the one with all the talent. Being from Shanghai, Kato probably can't be blamed for not making the obvious retort: the Green Hornet doesn't have a cool superhero name, either. (To be fair, this recurring joke did get the only solid laugh from me, and in the very last scene: "The Green Hornet. His reliable partner, the Blue Wombat!") And this is the name that the newspaper people give him (not knowing he's actually Britt) after Britt himself suggests, I kid you not, "the Green Bee". After they all laugh and declare him the Green Hornet, Britt checks again to see if they're sure the Green Bee isn't cooler. Now if there's one thing even a dope like Britt would know, it's that "the Green Bee" isn't cool. Bees aren't cool. Put any adjective you want in front of "bee" and then tell me it's cool. It can't be done. Even killer bees don't scare people. Who cares if the bee is green? If there's one thing manchildren talk constantly about, it's what sounds cool, yet Britt is here insisting on a patently uncool name for himself. The filmmakers can't be bothered to get the hero's characterization right.

I haven't said anything about the villain because he's played by someone I don't know, never comes across as either threatening or funny, and is given little of interest to do or say, at least until he inexplicably decides to murder his right-hand man and become a costumed supervillain because then he'll be scary. (He still isn't.) He is introduced laying the smack down on some young up-and-comer trying to usurp his position as kingpin of crime in Los Angeles. That the film would've been better with the up-and-comer as the central villain just illustrates just how misguided this entire project is.

Oh, and Cameron Diaz is somewhere in the film. I didn't want to punch her.

I have to admit, having said all this, I'm no closer to answering the eternal question of why God took a role in this film. Not even as the villain or anyone of importance, but just as a guy who sets up a few of Rogen's lame punchlines. Sure, He gets to run the newspaper in the end, but was it worth it? He looks depressed to be there, shaking His head sadly at whatever embarrassment Rogen's braindead character is currently engaged in, trying vainly to get Britt to behave in a way that is remotely mature or at least doesn't make him come off as a blithering buffoon who couldn't dress himself with both hands and a trained monkey to help. Perhaps He took such a small role so we wouldn't really notice He was there. Perhaps, in the end, He didn't come to Earth to suffer for our sins in some big public spectacle. Maybe He just classes up the joint, one Seth Rogen movie at a time.