Monday, January 24, 2011

Worst or Best? Time Will Tell

Finally, we get around to the 2011 film watching only to remember that most stuff that comes out in January is absolute crap. Oh, there's the occasional gem, but for the most part January is the month where almost every new release is either the dregs from the production company's cutting room floor or an expanded release on something released in New York or L.A. already for the sole purpose of qualifying for the Academy Awards. If you're a legitimate 2011 film released in January, it's a good chance the boys upstairs either think you have no chance of gaining critical acclaim or you're a big-budget action film released solely to make a big payoff during a slow month. And if you're The Green Hornet, both may apply. In spades.

Ah, for the days when things were simple...
The long-in-production film (which had been in development in some capacity since at least 1993) finally came out this month, though I seriously doubt it's been a film most people have been waiting for. Directed by Michael Gondry, the film's big draw was its 3D implementation, by far now the most overused technology from the past year. Though there seems to be no need for 3D or IMAX when you see the trailers for The Green Hornet, someone big obviously decided that it was the way to go. The Hornet's been around seemingly forever, from radio shows in the 30's to film serials in the 40's, a TV show in the 60's and many comic book series. Despite this, the character is simply written off as a Batman clone while in fact predating the caped crusader by three years. But is the combined acting and writing of film star Seth Rogen enough to derail the film more than previously expected?

An early shot of Rogen securing the writing credits for The Green Hornet
Seth Rogen stars as Britt Reid, full time party-goer and heir to his father's (Tom Wilkinson) media empire. Never having a strong relationship with his father, Britt nevertheless mourns when dear ol' da dies under mysterious circumstances. Deciding to make something of his life, Britt teams up with his house servant and friend Kato (Jay Chou) and takes to the streets in an Imperial Crown sedan dubbed The Black Beauty as the hero known only as The Green Hornet. Meanwhile, Russian gangster Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) takes his aggressive brand of violence to the streets of Los Angeles to weed out the competition and rid himself of these new crime fighters.

Older woman, younger man... That's different, I suppose
The first half of the film is actually quite enjoyable, with the "origin" story for the Hornet believable and succinct. Painted against the backdrop of a crime-ridden LA, the division between the rich upper class and the poorer sections of the city is as distinct as the differences between Britt and his father, who he sees as something of an ass. When the film starts and its just Britt and Kato messing around and having fun, even when they start kicking ass as the new superhero duo, the film is a lot of fun to watch. Even allowing for the mediocre and unnecessary 3D conversion, there are some cool scenes and it helps that the leads are as charismatic as they are. Don't get me wrong: Seth Rogen is COMPLETELY miscast as the hero type, he's something of an arrogant fool who uses his wealth to go through with what many would consider a stupid idea and dismiss it before too long. Still, he's the kind of guy you'd like to sit down and drink a beer with, at least until he hit on your girlfriend and you knocked him cold. "Over the top" would be the perfect phrase to describe his performance, as he quickly becomes too much to bear. On the other hand, Chou is well cast as the enigmatic Kato. The award-winning Taiwanese singer, songwriter, director and actor makes his American film debut and doesn't feel at all out of place filling the shoes once worn by legendary martial artist Bruce Lee. The two actors have great chemistry together (a must in any buddy film) and for the first half an hour to forty-five minutes it's enough to keep me entertained.

Gotta love Chudnofsky's double-barreled pistol
Sadly, after those initial moments I began to get restless as the film gets far too meandering and cliched. First of all, while Waltz is convincing as the self-conscious Russian antagonist, the part isn't well written in the slightest. Waltz is on that post-Oscar kick where you can do whatever you want and get paid tons of money to do it because, well, when you win an Academy Award it opens so many doors you're not sure where to go. That's why so many Oscar winners (see: Cuba Gooding, Jr) go on to have such unfulfilled careers after winning the big award, since they have so many bad options it's hard to pick the diamonds out of the rough. Cameron Diaz's appearance as the film's love interest also summons some demons out of the plot, as she's immediately treated as a romantic target for both Britt and Kato, eventually leading to a partner-breaking feud between the two. Original, huh? But I'll give Diaz credit: her character refuses to be a simple female token and has enough brains to be her own person outside of the main duo. Diaz is up to the task and puts on one of her better performances in recent years. Take that for what you will. The rest of the cast are largely unimportant, though I'll give any casting agent credit for putting into this film Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos and The Wire's Chad Coleman. Each are great actors in their own right and Olmos never gets enough credit for his gritty, down-to-earth demeanor. Wilkinson is an ass for his small role, but does a fine job with it. All in all, the supporting cast has the better talent but the leads get all the story.

Definitely NOT in the running for an Academy Award
We all have to start off somewhere, and this year I started off with what at best could be a hopped up, mediocre explosion fest. There's some good here, most especially Chou and Waltz, but not nearly enough to really recommend for even the average audience member. The writing and dialogue get annoying fast, the plot is silly and full of holes, and the 3D isn't good enough to make you forget that there was no real reason to put it in anyway. It may debut at #1 on 2011's Top 10 Films, but being number one on a list with one title ought to see this film quickly drop down the list in the months to come. If you wanted to see it then I won't tell you not to, but if you didn't want to see it in the first place, you made the right choice in my eyes.

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