That Green Hornet Movie is Going to Suck

Posted by on December 7th, 2010 at 12:07 AM

Seth Rogen, looking bewildered. Jay Chou, looking anonymous.

I can’t tell you how guilt-ridden I was about not warning you all how terrible the Jonah Hex movie was going to be based on the 30-second commercials.  Ultimately no harm was done as Jonah Hex had a hard time outgrossing Theater Closed for Repairs, but since I can tell you based on the trailers how lousy The Green Hornet is going to be I don’t want to fail in my duty a second time.  Not since Couples Retreat has a trailer laid out in such minute detail why you don’t want to see a movie.

When you hear that a movie has been made out of The Green Hornet what you naturally figure is (a) somebody thought it would be a great idea to make a movie out of The Green Hornet and (b) nobody had the nerve to talk him out of it.  Wikipedia informs us however that filming The Green Hornet has been a Hollywood death wish for more than 15 years.  One can only assume this persistence is a testimony to the film capitol’s unshakeable faith in imitation.  This is a property that began on radio as an attempt to replicate the success of The Shadow, returned in the 1960s as an attempt to replicate the success of the Batman TV show, no doubt came back to life in the same capacity in the wake of the Batman movies, and now will return to the screen as the second failure to duplicate the appeal of Iron Man.  The first failure to duplicate the appeal of Iron Man was of course Iron Man 2.  The trouble there was that the thing that made the first movie fun was Tony Stark the amoral playboy arms dealer.  Of course, Tony Stark could have continued to be the amoral playboy arms dealer into the second movie had they not decided to sacrifice the secret identity for the sake of a punch line to the first.  No doubt this seemed to the makers a bold flouting of superhero convention.  What they discovered however was that a noble peacemaking armor-pissing self-destructive mope was not nearly as engaging as an amoral playboy arms dealer.  As Iron Man 2 evidently didn’t need the first movie’s appeal to duplicate the first movie’s box office returns, I don’t suppose the makers are that broken up about it.  How the makers of The Green Hornet will be feeling this time next January is a more iffy proposition.

The trailer makes sure we know that The Green Hornet is going to be the kind of cover version that follows the original note-for-note.  It also informs us, presumably not intentionally, that every note will be flat.  Iron Man was built around Robert Downey, Jr., a romantic lead who can play comedy.  The Green Hornet is built around Seth Rogen, an everyman/buffoon comic actor who though he did play the romantic lead in a hit movie, did so only because movies these days cater to the fantasies of men and not the fantasies of women.  He looks not so much like a millionaire playboy/superhero as a guy who came to clean the pool.  The makers of Iron Man caught Downey when his perceived value was at its low ebb, which will no doubt go down as one of the canniest gambles of its time.  By the timing it seems likely that The Green Hornet got its green light when Rogen was riding the high tide of Knocked Up.  Having assumed they were betting on a sure thing, The Green Hornet‘s makers must now hope that the youngsters who flocked to the animated movies that have been Rogen’s biggest hits since then read the credits.  The Iron Man trailer dazzled viewers with sparkling dialogue and Downey’s charisma.  In The Green Hornet trailer, whether he is debauching himself, bantering with his sidekick or fleeing an explosion Rogen looks like he’s just hit the water after falling over the side of a cruise ship.  This is because he has been left without a life preserver by some Hollywood hack screenwriter named – let me check the notes here – Seth Rogen.  Now, it’s true that you can’t judge a script by the trailer because just about any movie can scrape up one or two good lines.  Like for instance, the commercial for The Warrior’s Way had a lot of us sold when the cowboy says, “Ninjas. Damn.” – a thin reed upon which to base a ten dollar investment.  On the other hand, when a trailer can’t scrape up with a single good line one begins to lose one’s faith.  The only near laugh in the Hornet trailer is when Kato takes out a red light camera, a gag that didn’t save Johnny English, and that had John Malkovich.  The role of the past-her-sell-by-date-but-still-smelling-okay female lead is taken by Cameron Diaz.  Since she and Gwyneth Paltrow were nearly interchangeable in their prime, with Diaz having the edge if anything, this ought to be a push.  Kato, played here by Jay Chou, is original to The Green Hornet, and, well, the TV version didn’t make Bruce Lee a star either.  Acting is a form of communication, and what Chou communicates is “I learned my dialogue phonetically.”  Per Wikipedia, the lazy man’s friend, Chou is a Taiwanese pop star whose fans worry that his acting career will distract him from his music.  The anxiety of the music fans of Taiwan is misplaced.  Chou and Rogen appear to have about as much chemistry as two guys who met on a bus.  And don’t speak the same language.  The villains are gangsters.  Gangsters are to action movies what Indians used to be to westerns:  People are kind of bored with them, but when you need them they’re always around.  As no one in Los Angeles is concerned about organized crime in Los Angeles it’s hard to imagine how anyone else is going to be.

If there’s anyplace The Green Hornet is going to make up ground on its model it will be action.  No one is going to say that the action in Iron Man did anything but coast on the goodwill generated by the first half of the movie, and anyone who saw Iron Man 2 is still trying to figure out who was doing what to who but has given up on trying to figure out a reason to care.  What we see of the Green Hornet’s action in the trailer indicates that it will be the slow-motion Matrix kind and not the kind that gets you excited or anything, which is good for moviegoers with a heart condition.  Obviously money has been spent, but doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose?  I would figure the main attraction of filming The Green Hornet is that it can be done cheaply.  All you need is a mask, a Lincoln Continental and a Chinaman.  The only possible bugger factor I can see is that it sometimes seems that trailers deliberately set out to make a movie look lousy, evidently on the assumption that cliché and unoriginality is what the public wants.  Perhaps the Green Hornet trailer is a compendium of every bad moment in an unexpected gem.  If anyone actually does see the movie, you’ll let me know, won’t you?

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4 Responses to “That Green Hornet Movie is Going to Suck”

  1. JohnEWilliams says:

    I dunno if it will be used in the film (probably), but the heavy metal/hip-hop roaring guitar and vocal shtick that worked okay in the first Iron Man started wearing out its welcome by the second. Using it to create the same essence of outrageous cool EXTREME around a pudgy guy in mask and a suit is just plain stupid.

  2. Jared Gardner says:

    I am also pretty sure I counted not one but two “gags” premised around Cato reacting in vaguely outraged homophobia to the suggestion that they might “touch” or be “partners.” Good stuff!

  3. R. Fiore says:

    I think it’s a fairly safe bet that if they did something in Iron Man, they’re going to be doing it the same way in The Green Hornet, stupid or not.

    I believe Cato is what they called the character in the Roman version. Originally on radio if I’m not mistaken Kato was Japanese, then in December 1941 he was given an emergency Nipponectomy and emerged a Filipino. The last couple of go-rounds he’s been played by Chinese actors. To be fair I get the impression that the stereotype the running gag will be based around is Oriental reserve rather than homophobia. The problem is that Chou seems less reserved than comatose. They’ve been doing tie-in commercials for a fast food chain using the characters which suggests that while the trailers try to make it look like straight action-adventure it’s actually played as comedy, but God, the interplay between the two is as flat as a pancake between two bricks. You give Robert Downey, Jr. a two-day beard and he looks rugged and debonair, but you do it with Rogen and he just looks like he was on a bender the night before. (Ironic.)

  4. inochi says:

    The physiognomies of character?

    Rogen’s face it’s true is more suitable for a Nick Bottom. Casting against type here could work if Rogen was a great actor maybe, and was given the chance to play against type. But Rogen looks too much like the side-kick rather than the hero. The film has two side kids then but no leading man who fits the right stereotype of the romantic hero. He should be a little older than Rogen? The dashing hero with a touch of the dark, sinister edge to him. Of course, it might work, if the film was ironic, satirical or comedic but, if it is as you suggest another lackluster hero fighting cliche gangsters, Rogen’s working class mannerisms and appearance only adds to its failure to achieve that willing suspension of belief necessary to enjoy this sort of industrial opera and ballet. And Britt Reid suggests class connotations of some sort. He is after all a newspaper publisher by day and man about town at night. In the industrial ballet the fight scene is the dance of death and destruction, aesthetic visual pleasure and action for its own sake and totally unreal but very popular. We can imagine it as the American version of traditional European Ballet gone crazy. Very anti-feminine and very aggressive, tasteless perhaps. I prefer fake realer violence than the stunt special effects ballets but they are thrilling to watch. The Green Zone did a fairly convincing version of the realer.

    Rogen did play a sort of scruffy, wounded thug or criminal in a movie titled Unknown, if I’m not mistaken, but he didn’t do too much acting in it, he was acting unconscious most of the time. Maybe he needs to appear unshaven or needs a beard to appear more grown up. His voice too is a problem for this role if it was an artistic effort. He is a comedian? But the people who finance and produce these things are apolitical, amoral, anti-literary with no historical or cultural memory so they don’t care.

    Adaptions of this modern knight in shinning armor story, the car in this case being both horse and armor, requires a true romantic sensibility and passion for the material. Even if the subject seems stale or silly. Vigilante justice against gangsters and criminals works best in a begone city of corrupt politicians and police departments. Dashell Hammett’s world or Chandler’s should be the inspiration. An almost immoral, lawless world, of suspect motives and people. The Green Hornet would benefit from being set in the era of The Shadow and Pulp novels, California in the 20s or 30s. And not so much the cliches of old Hollywood movies which is the next blunder these filmmakers always make, but something closer to a recreation of historical reality back then, far stranger than movie fictions.

    I love the fascistic uniforms and his connections to the Lone Ranger and the cowboy. Crime fighting could be a sort of Venetian carnival of masks via Chester Gould; and for some reason I’m thinking of Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death. Historical Venice was a corrupt place of intrigue, torture and murder. The symbolic hornet’s mask works if set in the time of radio and not our time with a television in every home and spy cameras and internet. How about a fantasy recreation of old Venice California and Hollywood as the setting.

    Kato, ala Bruce Lee on the television show, could teach the hero how to do the martial arts, thus elevating the Asian character to something more than just a side-kick for the white guy. Or a secret gay love affair between hero and side-kick might work. Britt Reid does sound a bit gay. Sound and images: even the sound and images of hornets has visual and aural appeal if used right. Maybe they could use tiny robot hornets he can throw at the bad guys. Still a celebrity, the hero in that era needs and wants to be anonymous.

    If we want to achieve any literary seriousness with this subject we must at the end wonder and ponder the nature of evil within and outside ourselves. Who is the actual criminal in high and low places. Who did it? Given corrupt, fascistic corporations then and now, there is still potential to do something grand with these iconic figures. It’s these poorly done adaptations based on their nostalgic appeal or value and nothing else that makes them appear to be silly escapist trash instead of meaningful tales of wonder and fantasy that could if done well still capture their native, and natural appeal.

    His mask in our era of spy cameras, tv, and the internet, is more likely to appear ludicrous, though one can suggest in the radio era that it distracted the criminal, even fascinated the criminal, had potential hypnotic effects? Or the gangster thinks it silly, you must be kidding me, thus giving the hero enough time to punch him in the face. To me most mass produced comics strips, books, movies, of superheroes and other escapist concepts are commercialized obfuscations of reality and what adaptations must do, from my leftwing political point of view, is confront the audience with what these things avoid in the very escapist subject of their original context. A publisher involved in fighting crime, hmmm? What was the reality of a publisher of a giant newspaper back then.

    Referring to your latest post here, you could say there is a difference between commercial adaptations for profit and mass consumption purposes versus, for want of a better term, a literary adaptation which might try seriously to adapt the original concept with higher purposes in mind while still trying to capture the charm of it. Thus the challenge is to bring comic strip and its text to life either as a play, or a film, or in the richer format of a novel without bastardizing it but enriching it with more believability, the life-likeness demanded by stage, screen etc. The question you raise in the post, following this one about translating strips into live action might be resolved by CGI animation adaptations or traditional animation versus live action dramas if filmmakers wanted to capture pure essense of the original without trying to modernize or adultify it.

    It all depends perhaps and how much growing up has changed the pleasure of one’s childhood memories of these comic strips. My antagonism to escaping demands that I adapt escapist material by bring reality into the picture. I feel there ought to be a difference between escape and entertainment. Can we have entertainment that isn’t escapist?