Screening Log #15: The Green Hornet (2011)

Green Hornet PosterWritten by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg based on the radio series by George W. Trendle

Directed by Michel Gondry

Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou and Christoph Waltz




Seth Rogen re-imagines the classic George W. Trendle in a script that comes across as a marriage between serial super hero comics and one of Judd Apatow‘s bromantic comedies. The film excavates the heart of the relationship between Rogen’s Britt Reid and his father’s mechanic (and coffee/mechanical savant) Kato (Jay Chou). Reid’s father runs a large and prestigious independent newspaper that Britt inherits following the sudden death of his father.

Gondry CollageBritt begins the film as a wastrel, squandering his father’s money and good will away, living in the pool house and partying in the nights; his father is alive just long enough to express his disappointment in his son’s chosen way of living before being killed and setting the son’s redemption arc under way. The elder Reid, James, is played by the always solid Tom Wilkinson who is given precious little in the way of depth or screen time to establish any concrete sense of the man’s character or important in Britt’s life, other than a flashback that opens the picture wherein he condemns Britt’s ineffectual attempts to stop violence at school, beheading his favourite super hero toy. Suffice to say Rogen’s script has little truck with the subtler thematic strokes that he could employ in the film.

In foregrounding the relationship that develops between Kato and Britt so strongly, Rogen’s script veers into the familiar territory of playing with the potentially homosexual overtones to these male friendships, making a point to stuff in homosexual double entendres where he can while complicating their friendship with jealousy over a female who seems far too over-qualified to exist as a temp secretary in Cameron Diaz‘s Lenore Case.

Uncoiling beneath these relationships is Britt’s foray into crime-fighting, conceived while he and Kato deface a statue erected to honour his father; the main plot follows familiar beats of political corruption and gang ties but is given some interesting flavour by Christoph Waltz‘s crime lord, Benjamin Chudnofsky. Waltz brings a sort of joy to his performance that is refreshing and the character is given notes of insecurity about coolness that Waltz hits with playfully malevolent aplomb.

The Screen Splits like A Rectangular AtomMichel Gondry sits behind the camera but much of the charm and whimsy he usually displays in his films stays at home save for a few effects and technical tricks that betray his unique vision behind the camera. In a few instances Gondry breaks his frame down into layouts reminiscent of those of comic strips or pages, paneling his screen to resemble the visual patterns of a comic while also cleverly capturing the dissemination of an idea being passed by word of mouth among the criminals. I was frankly a little surprised that Gondry’s imagination was subjugated so thoroughly to conventional plots and wrote action sequences and thought it would have more license to indulge in the fantastic as in his other films.

Rogen’s script also lacks any cogent commentary on the anachronism of the newsprint medium; Britt makes mention of blogs and websites but that The Daily Sentinel can continue to provide such wealth for his family as an independent newspaper in this day stretches plausibility. Gestures towards the culpability of media in creating or exacerbating sensationalistic fervor are cursory and limp at best. The opportunity to re-frame and make relevant an iconic hero in an interesting way is glossed over in favour of another slacker buddy comedy with several pleasing, but ultimately insufficient, accoutrements.

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