Friday, July 22, 2011

Film Friday: The Green Hornet (2011)

The Green Hornet is a great example of what not to do when making a comic book movie. In fact, it’s a great example of what not to do when making any movie. It’s unpleasant. It’s stylistically confused. It suffers from horrid writing and confused direction. And it relies entirely on the comic talents of a man with no talent and less than no charisma.

** spoiler alert**

Bad Acting: Just about everything is wrong with The Green Hornet, but the biggest problem starts right at the top with Seth Rogen, who both stars as Britt Reid (The Green Hornet) and is a co-writer. Rogen is an awful actor. He has no charisma, no charm and no comedic timing. He roams this film acting either like a very unfunny, unclever, unlikeable Rodney Dangerfield or like he’s staring in Hot Tub Bachelor Party II: Maximum Jerk. Basically, he provides a machine-gun-like stream of whiny, selfish, angry, obnoxious and self-pitying dialog in every scene. No one else gets to finish a sentence before he interrupts and he never once says anything you will like or could possibly care about, much less respect. And he’s the hero.

There are other actors in the film as well, but not that you will notice.

Worse Writing: Rogen the writer is perhaps even worse than Rogen the actor. Despite Rogen’s intent to write Reid as a “loveable loser,” he is a worthless piece of sh~t. He fires people at a whim, he abuses his power, he is an idiot, he is an arrogant braggart, he all-but sexually assaults his secretary, and he treats his underlings and “friends” like they are garbage. Yet, as can only happen in a B-movie world, everyone continues to look up to him and wants to be his friend because that’s what the script calls for.

But don’t worry, all is forgiven because Seth offers us this cliché at the beginning: when Reid was a child, he stood up to a bully to help someone. Thus, we're supposed to accept that Reid is kind-hearted even though he never once acts like it.

The other characters are even more poorly drawn. Shortround, er, Kato is taken directly from Stephen Spielberg's Book of Acceptable Racism and constantly makes gadgets. . . like all Asians. He becomes Rogen’s houseboy. Edward James Olmos is in the film, that’s about all I can say for his character, as is Cameron Diaz. Rogen gave them nothing to do except smile as Rogen tears them to shreds with his red-rubber-ball sharp comedic wit.

As for the plot, well, Rogen couldn't think of much there either. It's pointless.

Confused Direction: Even worse than the pointless plot, however, this film is utterly confused about what it wants to be. It’s labeled an “action comedy,” but it starts as a very poor drama as we spend about an hour establishing Rogen’s dislike for his rotten father and seeing Rogen and Kato decide to become super heroes. This includes ten minutes of watching these two idiots test Kato’s gadgets in a 1980’s montage gone wrong.

About an hour into the film, we finally come to the first scene I don’t dislike. Hurray! This scene introduces Cameron Diaz and seems to promise that what had been an angry, tension- free, interest-free drama will now become a comedic farce. (The film should have started here.) But it’s a fake out. The rest of the film lurches from scene to scene drifting back and forth between being a second rate action film, an unfunny comedy, and a horribly dull drama about a character from Frat Boy Office Party the Revenge. The film then ends when they run out of bad guys, and we are told the father is now redeemed. Why exactly he is redeemed isn’t clear. Apparently, we are to excuse his years of lack of integrity as a newspaper owner because he was being threatened by the DA. The decades of bad fathering? Well, forget those, the film does.

As an interesting aside, the final few minutes, easily the best and most coherent part of the film, are stolen from an episode of the 1966 television series.

Horrible Villains: And that brings us to the villains. Did I give something away when I told you that the DA is the bad guy? Rogen might think so, but you’d have to be pretty slow not to see that one coming. Rogen gives us all the cliché signs, right down to the actor coming across as a jerk. It is basically impossible to see him as anything other than a villain. But he’s not THE bad guy in any event. He’s just a subplot tacked onto the movie to give the story something to do while Rogen craps on his friends.

The real bad guy is named Chudnofsky, and therein lies the joke. . . no one can pronounce his name! Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Don’t you get it? Come on, that’s comic gold. No one can pronounce his name and that makes him insecure. You’re not laughing? Apparently, you outgrew that one on the school yard? Rogen didn’t.

Eventually, the Chudster gets so insecure that he changes his name to Bloodnofsky and comes up with some really long-winded thing to say before he kills people, I’d tell you what it is, but I honestly wasn’t listening. Indeed, the character and the actor (Christoph Waltz) are a waste. And for the record, like all modern cliché villains, the Chudster lets us know he’s evil by prancing around and killing henchmen because Rogen doesn't know any other way to let you know that he's evil.

Bad Everything Else: Everything else about this film stinks too. The action sequence are uninteresting and disconnected from the plot. They also reinforce how unfunny Rogen is, as he spends his time whining until Kato whips all the bad guys. Then Rogen goes around and maturely kicks them in the groin when they are down. Grow up Seth. The CGI is horribly misused too, like when we follow two beer bottle caps flying across the room, or how each fight scene freezes so Kato can scan whatever weapons the bad guys pulled as if he were the Terminator. This was misplaced and obnoxious.

Missed Opportunity: Finally, let me point out a true irony here. “The Green Hornet” came before “Batman,” but it feels like a “Batman” rip off. And in this day and age of the dark, vigilante heroes like Batman in The Dark Knight, the Green Hornet had an obvious path to take. The Green Hornet character, who pretends to be a bad guy while fighting crime, is tailor-made to repeat the Dark Knight formula. Alternatively, it could have been played as a farce or parody of the Dark Knight formula. Either would have made a memorable and entertaining film. But the one thing no one should have done is try to combine a dull son-hates-father drama with a bland action film and Hot Tub Office Party. What a waste.


Tennessee Jed said...

Wow - Andrew, I don't think I've ever seen a review where the absolute best thing one can say is it was a missed opportunity. Just as you recently wrote about why the super hero movies are phasing out, this could be one of those "look no further" moments. Granted, I was never a Green Hornet fan, but this is pretty telling.

TJ said...

Why don't you tell us how you really feel Andrew - LOL? Wow - I'm glad I won't be wasting any money on this one. Thanks for the heads up!

T-Rav said...

Ouch! Unfortunately, TJ beat me to the "tell us how you really feel" line, but it's worth repeating.

Thank you, though, for pointing out the mound of overrated-ness that is Seth Rogen. As I've said before, Family Guy lost me a long time ago, but it does have its moments, and one of those was when Peter (the lead character) went in for genetic experimentation. The plot was about "the gay gene" and gay rights and other tiresome crap, but before that the doctors injected him with other genes, including "the Seth Rogen gene." "What's that?" asked Peter. "Oh, this will give you the appearance of being funny without ever saying anything actually humorous."

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Yeah, this one was bad. It wasn't "total nonsense" bad or "nothing happens" bad, but everything about it was just wrong.

I actually had considerable hope after the Cameron Diaz scene that they had finally found their footing, but then just fell apart again.

I definitely cannot recommend this one.

AndrewPrice said...

TJ, You're welcome! And yeah, I do seem to have problems holding back my opinions! LOL!

This one was just wrong all around. It really felt like an ego project for Rogen. If the character hadn't been famous, that's what I would have thought it was.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, That perfectly describes Rogen -- "the appearance of being funny without ever actually saying anything funny."

He spends his time running around acting like he's the lovable loser delivering just a series of hilarious lines.... but none of them are funny. And he just comes across as obnoxious. He wasn't funny on any level.

It was like humor aimed at very nasty 12 year olds. But then the rest of the film was almost serious in tone. So it just clashed horribly.

(P.S. I'm not a Family Guy fan either.)

Tennessee Jed said...

Because I have never really seen Seth Rogen in anything, I guess I can't really talk about him specifically. There is an interesting point that was made. Can a person be funny without saying anything funny? Of course. Visual comedy such as slapstick is a great comic tradition. Apparently, this guy is NOT that guy, though.

Unknown said...

Andrew: Now why is it that I think I'm not going to waste my time with this turkey?

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That is a good question and I would say absolutely. Look at Mr. Bean, for example, who can get truly hilarious without saying anything at all. And some of the funniest moments in film occur in dramas, where a character just gives the right look or even says something completely not-funny, but the situation makes it funny.

But that's not what Rogen is doing. Rogen thinks the things he says are funny, but they aren't, they are obnoxious. And that's the problem.

Rogen thinks the fact he doesn't look like a leading mean (i.e. he's a slightly overweight nerd) and that he’s playing a “lovable loser” insulates him from people seeing these lines as obnoxious. For example, if a leading man who looks like Brad Pitt says "how can she not love me, I'm super hot?" That comes across as arrogant and obnoxious. But if John Candy says the same thing, it would be hilarious because you know he’s not being serious.

He sees himself as John Candy here. But he acts like he’s Brad Pitt. He never achieves the level of oblivious loser that is required to get him to John Candy. Instead, he just comes across as a snarky jerk who happens to be rich.

What’s more, the jokes aren’t aimed at him, he aims them at the others. He think it's funny to cut people off who work for him and then shoot them down while publicly insulting them. Thus, for example, he doesn't tell Kato "why doesn't Diaz like me?" Instead, he says, "how can she like you, you're just a sidekick, I'm a hero."

The whole time you feel uneasy about his abuse of his underlying, you aren’t laughing at how funny he is. The power dynamic is very important in comedy and Rogen has misjudged it badly. Abuse is only funny when the person being abused has the power to fight back but is stunned. It’s not funny when you abuse people who have no choice but to stand there and take it.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I wouldn't have a clue! LOL!

CrispyRice said...

Sounds like a pass! Thanks!

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I would recommend passing on this one.

Anonymous said...

If Hot Tub Bachelor Party II: Maximum Jerk and Frat Boy Office Party the Revenge had come out 30 years ago, I bet they'd be considered classics today. :-)

I haven't seen this film but your review kinda makes me want to, you know, just to see how bad it actually is. I'd say this was a terrible miscalculation on Rogen's part. And I say that as someone who should like him more than I do, what with the whole everyman schlub thing. I enjoyed him in Superbad and Fanboys but I can't disagree that he usually comes off as an arrogant, whiny ass. Yeah, pot jokes... yay! And he needs to learn profanity in and of itself isn't funny.

Genre hybrids are always difficult to pull off which is why it's so awesome when they work (Galaxy Quest being a great example). And from the commentary I'm writing about at the moment, screenwriters often have trouble with tonal shifts. It would appear Rogen and Co. did.

I assume Jed's question about people being funny without saying funny things referred to silent comedians but the person I thought of was Jack Benny, who always played the straight man yet still managed to make people convulse with laughter.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I took Jed's question to be a little broader, as in "do you need to be saying something funny to come across as funny." I think the evidence is that you don't, because a lot of times, humor comes from the fact the actor is trying very hard to play the straight man in a crazy universe.

In terms of seeing the film, that's your call. I wouldn't say it's bad in the sense of being unwatchable, i.e. you won't sit there throwing things at the screen and trying to slit your wrists. But it's bad in the sense that you just won't enjoy a single thing about it and more often than not you'll find yourself saying things like "who thought this was a good idea?"

In fact, there were moments when I noticeably perked up -- like when Edward James Olmos appeared.... but then he barely says 10 words throughout the rest of the film. And like I mention, the first scene I actually liked (with Diaz) turned out to be nothing like the rest of the film. So there are moments of false hope that show you what the film could have been, but wasn't.

On Rogen, my impression of Rogen is that he thinks he can coast on "arrogant and obnoxious" because guys like Steve Carell manage it. But where Rogen goes wrong is that while Carell et al. are totally willing to make themselves the butt of the joke, he's not. He wants to come across as the cool guy. That makes his arrogance and obnoxiousness seem real rather than for comedic purposes.

Indeed, I have no doubt that if you met Carell in real life, he'd be nothing like his characters. But Rogen would be exactly what you see in this film. (By the way, they did reduce the swearing and there were no drug jokes. . . just gay and fart jokes.)

Secondly, as I mentioned in response to Jed above, he has the power dynamic all wrong. Beating up on somebody who has no power to resist because they are an intimidated employee is just not funny... it's creepy and abusive. But that's what he does throughout this film. Everyone he picks on is someone who has no choice but to take it.

Finally, having written a book where changing mood was vital, I can confirm how incredibly hard it is to shift moods within a story. But the problems here went beyond that. This film had wild mood swings, often mixing incongruous parts, and it seemed to do it randomly. It's like three or four different people filmed different parts of the film, all with different ideas about what type of film it was, and then handed those parts to an indifferent editor to make a film out of them.

AndrewPrice said...

By the way, he may be "everyman" in looks, but he really doesn't come across as everyman in attitude. He's whiny, angry, and seems highly arrogant.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I'd heard Christoph Waltz was the best part of the movie; not because he was good or anything, but because he didn't try to be--his part sucked and he knew it, so he just rolled with it. I guess maybe that's not true?

(By the way, I posted an update to "The Walking Dead" article, about today's premiere of the Season 2 trailer.)

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, It's hard to say he was "good." He plays a very standard villain -- ranting, raving, killing henchmen and he tries to juxtapose this by adding a lot of insecurity when he isn't killing his own people: "You mean, people don't think I'm scary? How do I make people fear me?"

At best, I would describe him as unbelievable and slightly annoying. But that's about as good as I can give him. It was the kind of performance he should leave off his resume.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew and Scott - yeah, I was not simply referring to silent fims. Guys like Chevy Chase became iconic doing Geral Ford imitation pratfalls. Jack Benny, had "the look" where he would fold his arms and give his goofy grin. And, in a sense, I meant that delivery is just as important as the actual line itself. This is why a great actor can at least sometimes make something out of inferior material.

One of the people I was actually thinking of when I made the comment is of more recent vintage, and somebody you might not immediately think about in this way. I am talking about Reese Witherspoon. I truly believe she is a real talent, particularly in what I consider her natural genre of comedy. She has one of the most expressive faces I have seen.

Recently, she has been in a couple of mediocre films, "How Do You Really Know" and another film with Mark Ruffalo in which the name escapes me. My point is, it was fun to watch her work hard to make as much out of those scripts as possible.

As an old politician might have said, I know Ms. Witherspoon Mr. Rogen, and you are no Reese Witherspoon. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I like Witherspoon a lot. I think she's a very good actress and shown herself to be quite versatile.

Another actress I like a lot is Anna Farris. I think she's got great comedic timing and she's capable of playing a very different range of characters.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - I like Anna a lot as well. The first time I noticed her was in a little known comedy called Southern Belles. Hillarious, and she did a great job.

Also liked her in Best Friends. She has a great comedic sense, although it would be interesting to see her in a more serious role.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I know her mainly from the Scary Movie franchise, where she's done a lot of great work with mediocre material. And I really liked her in The House Bunny too, which was a lot better than it deserved to be. I haven't seen Southern Belles. I'd like to see her in something serious too, though I have no doubt she could handle it.

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