The Green Hornet (2011)
by Steve Habrat
I’ll admit that I was itching to see The Green Hornet the second I heard the buzz (pun intended) about it. I have vague memories of catching the short lived 1966 television series with martial arts legend Bruce Lee as the ass kicking sidekick Kato and Van Williams as the Green Hornet himself Britt Reid. I remember that old theme that still every once and a great while makes its way into pop-culture, whether it is sampled in rap songs or Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. I remember those masked avengers riding around in their tricked out Black Beauty. In fact, I think I was drawn to it because of the similarities to Batman. They both feature a masked millionaire and his sidekick who has come from nothing. They ride around in cool cars. They fight crime in really cool outfits (Although, if GQ ever did a best-dressed superhero list, I think the Green Hornet and Kato may take it from the Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder.). But mostly, they were vigilantes that operated outside of the law. And it was precisely the anti-hero set up that lured me in. Hell, Val Williams and Bruce Lee even had cameos in the popular Adam West Batman television show. While I’m too young to be overly familiar with where the Green Hornet got his start, which was a radio show from the 1930s, I can still hold on to the hope that the film has had some form of respect for him and stayed true to his origins.
Enter the writing team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who also penned the hilarious coming of age story Superbad and whimsical director Michel Gondry, of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Science of Sleep fame. Intrigued yet? You should be. Even if you are unfamiliar with the Green Hornet and Kato, there is still the promise of some truly unique visuals and some stinging humor right? You bet there is, and there is also some bone crunching action, lively car chases, eccentric villains, smoking hot secretaries, really cool cars, and a painfully hilarious cameo from James Franco. Somewhere in there, there’s the plot of playboy Britt Reid (Played by Rogen), the–What else?–slacker son of a newspaper publisher who takes over The Daily Sentinel in the wake of his father’s mysterious death. On the seedier side of town, a murderous villain Chudnofsky (Played by the brilliant Oscar winner Christoph Waltz), who looks like a super villain from the seventies, is slowly trying to control all the crime in gangland Los Angeles. The day after his father’s funeral, Britt wakes up to his morning coffee and to his horror, his coffee is dreadful. Plus, it lacks the elegant and decorative leaf that usually adorns the top. Britt storms through the estate looking for the person who usually makes his morning coffee. That person, he discovers, is Kato (Played by a seriously good Jay Chou), who is also his father’s mechanic. After a night of drunken shenanigans, Britt and Kato decide they are going to become masked vigilantes and take on crime throughout the city. Then the Looney Tunes meets 300 style action kicks into high gear.
By this point, be it from reading what I have described to you or seeing the energetic trailers, you know if this is the type of film for you. If you’re a fan of Rogen’s haw-haw stoner humor or a superhero aficionado, you were probably already in line and have already seen The Green Hornet. If you’re not a fan of either, I can’t really do much to convince you to see it. I suffer from my own fanboy demons, so naturally I jumped at the opportunity to see it opening weekend. Now, I’ll also admit I walked out of the theater with a big grin slapped across my face. The film is cartoonish mayhem at it’s absolute finest. And Gondry can’t resist spicing the film up with his trademark surreal flare. The action scenes are inspired, resembling something out of a video game (Kato hones in on all of the baddies weapons that they are wielding). Rogen never snaps out of his along-for-the-ride shtick and some will find that a hard hurdle to jump over. But it’s Chou’s Kato who’s the real star of the film and even through broken English; you can’t help but love him. Whether he is kicking and punching through countless hoards of Chudnofsky’s henchmen or whipping up countless Black Beauties, Chou is always entrancing. And what about Oscar winner Waltz? Well he seems to be lapping up his new career in Hollywood with demented merriment. I’ll tell you this much about his character, just wait until the climatic showdown. He’ll have you laughing and gripping the edge of your seat. And we can’t forget to mention Cameron Diaz, who seemed to be a last minute addition to make the fanboys drool. She isn’t given much to do but fill Reid and Kato in on some of the criminal activity that is taking place in LA. And how does Rogen fare as a superhero? He pulls it off just fine, even if Chou is the real action star here. Rogen mostly falls back on spewing out silly one-liners and hiding behind Kato. Don’t let that fool you, as Rogen does get his chance to play the hero in a show stopping fight scene at the climax. I’ll confess that it is welcome in a genre that has become dominated by brooding heroes who take themselves a little too seriously. But then again, it’s what we have pushed for isn’t it? Heroes that are more emotionally complex, solemn, and that operate within the world we are familiar with. But The Green Hornet’s main objective is to throw all of that out the window and invite us to just have a campy good time.
Every party has its moments where the fun lags and The Green Hornet does suffer from a few lagging moments. The plot of the film is uneven at points and the more twists that they try to throw into the mix, the more cluttered the plot actually becomes. The film works better when it stays on the straight and narrow path. The entire movie is played up like a psychedelic madcap comedy and trying to give it more depth than it deserves slightly spoils the fun. The opening of the film doesn’t provide much of a back-story to the relationship between Reid and his father. They simply don’t get along and Reid’s father doesn’t understand him. That’s about all we get we are supposed to just accept it. The film is just under the two-hour mark and it leaves us asking why they didn’t go another ten minutes and make their troubled relationship a little bit meatier. And the 3D? It reeks of an afterthought and I will say that it’s the first 3D movie that actually began to bother my eyes.
Through it all, The Green Hornet works because it seems like everyone in it is having a blast. I had as much fun watching it, as I’m sure they did making it. The fact of the matter is that the Green Hornet is a third string superhero. He always has been and will continue to be. His film does not rank among the best of the superhero genre and I don’t think anyone under the sun expected it to run with Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight, Kick-Ass, Iron Man, or Watchmen. It also certainly does not rank with the worst of them (I’m referring to you Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, Punisher and Wolverine!). I went in with high hopes but, due to some of the seething reviews, I had my doubts. I emerged smiling and completely satisfied. Plus, in these early months of the year where Hollywood dumps all of its crap, don’t expect much in the way of solid entertainment anytime soon. The Green Hornet is the best we will get for a while and after sitting through all the serious award contenders, it was utterly refreshing. The Green Hornet is pure fanboy euphoria. Grade: B
The Green Hornet is now available on Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, and DVD.
30 Minutes or Less (2011)
by Steve Habrat
It has become a custom for Hollywood to sneak a star-studded comedy into theaters during the last days of the summer movie season. It aims to lure in the remaining college and senior high school crowds who are looking to waste one of their last evenings of the summer. I will be the first to admit that I have started looking forward to these films, which include strokes of comedic brilliance like The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Funny People, Tropic Thunder, Superbad, and Pineapple Express. Each of these films is rambunctious in their own right and offered a much-needed break from the countless waves of CGI fakery. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a good comedy to lighten the mood? This summer, we have Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer’s 30 Minutes or Less and it seems that the comedic spell that blesses all the said films above did not cast a spell on this star studded heist comedy. In fact, 30 Minutes or Less isn’t blessed with much at all. It’s just consistently repulsive and foul mouthed. To make matters worse, it squanders all the talent that is attached to it every step of the way. I kept getting the impression that the film was a hell of a lot of fun to make but sadly, we the audience aren’t allowed in on the action.
Perhaps it was the concept itself, which revolves around a loser pizza delivery guy named Nick (Played by the always welcome Jesse Eisenberg) who apparently enjoys getting high and slinging pizza for a living. He works for Vito’s Pizza, who guarantees you get your pie in thirty minutes or less. Nick shacks up with Chet (Played by the always welcome Aziz Ansari), a dorky grade school teacher who finds joy in online dating and playing Call of Duty. One evening after a spat between the nebbish best friends, Nick finds himself abducted by the loudmouthed Dwayne (Played by the deadpan Danny McBride) and his clueless partner in crime Travis (Played by the childlike oaf Nick Swardson). They strap a bomb to Nick and demand that he rob a bank. Dwayne and Travis need a hundred grand so they can pay a Mexican hit man to knock off Dwayne’s wealthy father and run off with the inheritance. Naturally, chaos ensues and we are bombarded for eighty-three minutes with one moldy joke after another.
30 Minutes or Less is a brief film and it benefits from refusing to let the nonsensical events drag out for longer than they have to. The irony to all of this is that the film is entirely too long and it could be executed in, well, thirty minutes or less. There is drawn out bickering that disguises itself as character development yet we could care less about any specific character. It forces in a frail love story and you would honestly forget it was even there if the film didn’t constantly keep reminding you about it. The film also crams in a bizarre side story for the senseless Mexican hit man with a lisp. He seems there just so the film will be over eighty minutes and get a theatrical run. McBride, who is usually welcome comic relief, spews stale and raunchy adlibs as if they are outtakes from his hit show Eastbound & Down. Eisenberg, Ansari, and Swardson all flail around in front of the camera desperately attempting to land a joke that works but nothing really stands out from any of them. It’s a disgrace, really, as all are quite talented. They are forced to try to top one another every step of the way. What makes the film an even bigger disappointment is that director Fleischer, who made the goofily self-aware Zombieland, demonstrates none of the wit he brandished with his previous film. It’s just piercing and irritate.
To give you an example of this movie going experience, when the film quieted down for a few seconds (trust me, it’s rare in this one), you could actually hear one audience member sawing logs. It had me checking the time to see how much longer I needed to sit through it. It only managed to draw a few remote laughs from the audience members that remained, as I saw at least two groups of people (apparently families) head for the exit early on. At least it had the sixteen year olds sitting next to me doubled over in laughter, because it barely drew a chuckle from me. Their eyes also almost popped out of their eye sockets at the gratuitous nudity the film offers at one point.
All in all, the film is unremarkable. It’s not flat out unpleasant like The Hangover Part II but it’s certainly an underachiever similarly to its main protagonist. I just sat wishing I could re-watch McBride in Pineapple Express, or Eisenberg in Zombieland, or Ansari in episodes of Parks & Recreation, or Swardson in Grandma’s Boy. The film doesn’t even attempt to be sweet natured in its more subdued moments, as that is what made those other later summer comedies go down easier. I have the sneaking suspicion that when 30 Minutes or Less departs from theaters, many will never remember it even existed. It’s a comedic misfire. Grade: D+