Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet
Dir. Michel Gondry
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 119mins

The Green Hornet is a movie that succeeds in spite of itself. Pitting two individuals with such distinguishable styles – co-writer/executive producer/star Seth Rogen and director Michel Gondry – together is almost always a recipe for disaster, and yet in Gondry’s outlandish, visually flash and snappy adaptation of the famous radio serials is a delightful hoot from word go. It is alive and marches to its own imaginative beat, which is something I appreciate more than others it seems.

Seth Rogen, co-writing with Evan Goldberg, stars as Britt Reid, the son of a recently deceased newspaper tycoon played by Tom Wilkinson. Along with his father’s mechanic Kato (pop star and Curse of the Golden Flower actor Jay Chou), the two form a crime-fighting duo whose mission – I think – is to pretend to be villains in order to get closer the man responsible for all the violence in Los Angeles. That’d be Christoph Waltz as the ridiculously named Chudnofsky. Cameron Diaz plays Lenore, but her role is nearly non-existence, which is a shame because Gondry has proven to quite adept at giving perky blondes wonderful roles (hello Kirsten Dunst in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

It’s basically all one big excuse for Rogen to wear dapper (and, for this viewer, irresistibly sexy) three-piece suits while explosions detonate around him and every second evil henchman dies by having something fall on them, whether it be a car, a bulldozer, a steamroller… The plot is more-or-less a series of exposition and bromance bonding that act as nothing more than flimsy bridges between escalating loco action sequences, but what loco action sequences they are! And that exposition? Filled with ballsy zingers recited at such rapid fire pace by (mostly) Rogen, the kind that you would expect from him and Goldberg (they also co-wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express). Scenes between Rogen and Chou have a zest that isn’t usually found in action blockbusters of this sort. The Iron Man films tried, but I much prefer Rogen’s brand of the similar playboy/frat house humour.

The action really is quite something. I don’t recall having ever been so particularly taken by a film’s stunt work – shame on me, really – but the work by the stunt crew here appears phenomenal. Sure, a lot of the fight sequences involve crotch-kicks and head slams, but Gondry has filmed the action scenes so as to allow an audience to properly see them all. That it physically looks as if a real person is having their nuts smashed by a villain is not to be underestimated. A seemingly never-ending parade of people smashing through windows, slamming into walls and doors, falling out of high places, punching, slashing and stomping mixed with an assortment of weaponry, inventive and traditional, make the escalating madcap violence hilariously numbing. Why is a man getting kicked in the testicles so much funnier here than anywhere else I’ve seen it lately? I’m not quite sure, but I appreciated the film’s bravura and the way it embraced its crazed style.

That Gondry was able to stick to Rogen and Goldberg's rhythm and still have some of his style come through is a bit of a minor miracle. Oh sure, there are no scenes made of paper mache, but compare The Green Hornet to anything by, for instance, Stephen Sommers or Rob Cohen and you can see an instant difference. Gondry is no director for hire and he has supplanted enough style to make the movie stand out without going overboard and alienating. There’s a very distinct Dick Tracy meets The Shadow circa 2011 vibe there that I clicked with. It embraces its cartoon heritage, but does so in a way that isn’t dopily obvious (hello Hulk) or frustratingly literal (that’d be you Sin City). The 3D is mostly ineffectual, although one thing Gondry makes work with the technology is split screen, which produces a nifty floating effect as his cameras follow a series of various characters during a sequence that makes TimeCode quadrant screen look quaint.

The reactions of this film have been amongst some of the most fascinating in recent memory. For every critic or two giving it a one-star savaging there is another hailing it to the heavens. They say comedy is subjective, and so too are big budget, wisecracking, visual effect extravaganza blockbusters. In a time when so many films of The Green Hornet’s ilk are trying desperately to be “gritty”, “realistic” and “mature”, played so seriously that you could cut glass with the straight angels of the pretty lead cast-member’s jaw, it’s hard to imagine myself having more fun in a movie of this kind. What Gondry’s film has, and has in spades, is a very specific dedication to pure and utter anarchy. There aren’t just times when The Green Hornet goes off the rails – it goes off the rails, rockets off into the stratosphere, loops around while juggling five missiles at once and then lands perfectly back on the tracks; it should crash and burn, but ultimately becomes something I embraced in all of its wow-pop-zing glory. A-

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