I’m beginning to suspect that writer-producer-actor Seth Rogen is up to foul play.
Rogen is an affable, occasionally inspired goof (Knocked Up, (Observe and Report) and at this point I’d still rather see him involved with a movie than not. Yet his tendency to seek out talented, quirky directors – Greg Mottola for Superbad, David Gordon Green for Pineapple Express and now Michel Gondry for The Green Hornet – has become ominous. He’s not introducing these deserving filmmakers to a larger audience, as some have claimed. He’s watering them down.
Gondry is especially troublesome to me considering he made what might be the best film of the 2000s: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And the French director’s other works have each redefined, in their own hand-crafted way, what the cinema can be.
The Green Hornet – derived from the 1930s radio program that led to a comic book, movie and television franchise – does not redefine the superhero genre, much less the cinema. But it is fun. In fact, like David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express, The Green Hornet falls short only in comparison to its director’s better work. This is an amiable exercise, not quite a spoof but hardly a rote recitation of the genre’s required notes. Rogen, who wrote the script along with Evan Goldberg, seems more interested in the comic byplay among his fellow actors than the chases and explosions. And Gondry, who no doubt was disinterested in explosions too, wisely indulges him.
As such, the movie’s highlight is the extended bonding sequence between Rogen’s Britt Reid, who has just inherited his father’s newspaper empire, and Kato (Jay Chou), the family mechanic. After finding common ground while grousing over the late James Reid’s demanding nature, Kato reveals a host of hidden talents: he can outfit cars with hidden weapons, knows an array of martial arts and can make an impeccable cup of cappuccino. After unexpectedly thwarting a mugging while cruising around one night, the pair casually decides to make it official and become masked superheroes.
Cue the required sing-along-to-the-car-radio sequence (Rogen is showing his age by selecting Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”), followed by the usual superhero antics, including an amusing Christoph Waltz as an easily offended crime boss. It’s all about one inch away from the familiar thanks to Rogen’s offbeat script and sidearmed delivery.
Note that neither of those qualities can be attributed to Gondry. The director’s films – ramshackle head trips that seem to have been stitched together with leftover yarn – have been deliriously idiosyncratic artworks, at least up until now. The question I ask when a genre picture such as this appropriates an inventive filmmaker such as Gondry is if it really needed him. The Green Hornet clearly did not; the same film could have been made by any number of directors (Greg Mottola and David Gordon Green among them). Rogen seems to be choosing such names simply because he thinks it would be cool to work with them. That’s understandable, but his material is beneath their talent. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a thief, but he is collecting artists at the expense of art.