USA 2010 Directed by: Michel Gondry Written by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg Based on The Green Hornet by: George W. Trendle, Fran Striker Produced by: Neal H. Moritz Cinematography by: John Schwartzman Editing by: Michael Tronick Music by: James Newton Howard Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Edward James Olmos, Edward Furlong, Analeigh Tipton, David Harbour, James Franco
So Seth Rogen is a movie star. And he’s made to where he is through a string of formulated comedy roles. Let me rephrase this: he’s made it to stardom by walking through a series of films playing himself. Which is fine, he did what he did. As Woody Allen famously said, “If you cast right, then actors won’t need to act.” And, because of Rogen’s own belief of his star power, he’s decided that he’s got enough audacity to write and produce a feature film. And looking at the resources pool, what better story to tackle than to jump on the bandwagon and reprise a bygone TV series onto the big screen. And, I mean big; so big that the studio had dropped $120 million into making “The Green Hornet.” Otherwise, in Hong Kong, back in the ‘70s, also known as “The Kato Show,” due credit by then an unknown Asian actor named Bruce Lee.
Now we’re getting somewhere. As camp as it was and lasting only just a season, “The Green Hornet” garnered cult status. Not because the show was fantastically scripted or well-played. It simply rode on the shoulders of the lightning-fast, and charismatically enigmatic little Bruce. No one had seen anything like it back then. The kids loved it… Seth Rogen may have been one of those kids. Although probably by a decade later, seeing it on reruns.
The platform was great: a cult show, money to burn, a movie star at the helm (Rogen); add on a few more stars from other parts of the world, and voila, a movie golden egg is laid.
To start, Rogen is not a character actor, he’s a personality. The title character is supposed to be a millionaire mastermind that orchestrated all the fights and heists, and required someone with a bit more depth and believability. Think Christian Bale’s Batman. As a matter of fact, the Green Hornet “is” a carbon copy of Batman. Bruce Wayne (Batman’s alter ego), a billionaire playboy that is a masked vigilante by night. And plug in Kato in place of Batman’s sidekick, Robin, and there’s your springboard TV show. To be precise, both “Batman” and “The Green Hornet” were airing at the same time back in the day as TV series. Both equally kitsch.
Fast forward to today, as producer, looking at what the neighbor’s doing – Nolan’s “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” I’d probably want to jet the other way too. Except, where Rogen knew which road not to head down, he didn’t figure out which way is right. So “The Green Hornet” seemed like a hodge podge of action and reaction, with the missing ingredient of intention.
Seth Rogen wasn’t completely blurred by his fame. Somebody probably told him to curb his enthusiasm and holster his desire to gobble up every second of the hero scene. And so, Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou was called in to play a masterful Kato, an ass-wupping McGuyver – a multitalented gadgets engineer – and a helluva coffeemaker. I suppose it’s a good way to get away from Bruce Lee’s version, who was just a butler with really, really cool moves. But, again, the formula didn’t work here. No Asian sensation worked well playing in the Hollywood sandbox, aside from Jackie Chan doing silly comedy routines. But Jay Chou’s Kato wasn’t supposed to be silly. Sometimes, he reminded me of an Asian Leonardo Dicaprio, with a lot less acting chops and a whole lot more verbal flops.
Adding to this confusion cuisinema is Cameron Diaz as Rogen’s wishful love interest, who actually fell for Chou (just to be safely non-prejudice). She looked like she’d stepped out of the original TV show – a dozen wrinkles older than both Rogen and Chou put together; her involvement in the whole story was…thinking back, didn’t really need to be there. That’s how much money the studio had coughed up – enough to spill it on an A-list starlet just for laughs. Finally, they thought a serious Oscar-winning foreign heavyweight was needed to round off this bowl of badass: Christoph Waltz. But even his menacing Nazi Doberman fangs from “Inglourious Basterds” didn’t pinch a reaction here. Not one moment was he convincing as an organized crime kingpin on a ruthless path to monopolize the city.
“The Green Hornet” was a continuing series of moments waiting for a punch line that would never surface. Its editing looked far better in the trailers than the actual scenes. The dynamics between its cast were often awkward without development. A few clips of innovative fight sequences got me sitting up, then only put me back down with nonsensical car crashes. And there were lots of them. So, in the end, was this tribute to Bruce Lee, or to the fan-boy fantasy, or just to Rogen’s own ego? Maybe the sequel will tell. Let’s just hope the studio will run out of money for a trilogy.