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Yeah, shoot ’em: Rogen and Chou in The Green Hornet.

Clap Louder Next Time

By Shawn Stone

The Green Hornet

Directed by Michel Gondry

Hollywood is addicted to the tried and true property, no matter how threadbare. So Johnny Depp is going to star in The Lone Ranger, though it’s been 30 years since it was a flop movie with Klinton Spilsbury, 50 years since it was a hit TV show starring Clayton Moore, and 70 years since it was a radio-drama smash, expertly parodied by Bob Clampett in the immortal 1939 Looney Tune The Lone Stranger and Porky. And so, this week, we are presented with the $120 million spectacle The Green Hornet. The Green Hornet was a smash radio series in the 1930s and 40s, a movie serial, and a one-season 1966 TV show that (despite the electric presence of Bruce Lee) couldn’t quite cash in on the Batman craze. Now it’s a loud, fitfully entertaining piece of Hollywood bric-a-brac that costs (at least) $17.25 to see in IMAX 3D.

Progress!

A few smart, creative people were involved in reimagining this property, principally director Michel Gondry; actor-writer Seth Rogen, who penned the script with his Superbad writing partner Evan Goldberg; and actor Christoph Waltz, who plays the main villain.

What did they have to work with? The Green Hornet is a Batman-style, secret-identity superhero who has a lot of money, owns a powerful big-city newspaper, and has a cool sidekick, the martial arts expert and technology wiz Kato. The Green Hornet’s shtick is that he pretends to be one of the villains while actually being a hero. Britt Reid—that’s his “real” name—is not a misunderstood teenager like Spider-Man; he’s a low-key member of society who likes to put on a mask and kick a little ass.

What did they do with it? Emphasized the Hornet’s daddy issues (“daddy,” it turns out, didn’t love the little insect enough in the pupa stage) and made the Hornet an immature adult of the kind Rogen’s played before. This works well enough. Rogen knows how to push the “jerk” thing about as far as the audience will go. They even wrote a couple of terrific scenes for Waltz; the opener, with Waltz squaring off against a cocky James Franco, is worthy of Tarantino. They should have written a few more scenes for Waltz, and a few less for Rogen.

They cast Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou as Kato; he’s not bad, and carries his scenes well.

Gondry seems to have put most of his enthusiasm into Kato’s fight scenes; his “Kato vision” effects are actually pretty cool, breaking down each punch and kick into screen-splitting fragments.

Cameron Diaz is the odd woman out. Cast as an aging girl Friday—yes, they make an issue of her age, but then so does the camera—she’s supposed to have more brains than Kato and the Hornet put together. Diaz seems lost, however. Her Lenore is neither enthusiastic enough about criminology to believably put up with these morons, nor funny enough to justify her screen time.

In the end, neither Gondry nor Rogen nor Chou nor the special effects wizards nor Waltz can outflank the machinery of the contemporary blockbuster, with its humorless demand for an endless series of (ho-hum) explosive climaxes.

But maybe they just didn’t try hard enough. Maybe they didn’t really believe in the coolness of what they were working with. Not until the end of the picture do we hear the classic Green Hornet theme, “The Flight of the Bumble Bee.” It’s badass. In fact, it’s badass in and of itself; it was badass when the aforementioned Quentin Tarantino used it for Uma Thurman’s Tokyo entrance in Kill Bill. It seems like Gondry and Rogen didn’t clap hard enough, and Tinkerbelle died.

 

No Choice at All

The Dilemma

Directed by Ron Howard

Directed by Ron Howard at his blandest, The Dilemma is a bromance that relies on bromides. Vince Vaughn is Ronny, a car-engine salesman, and Kevin James is Nick, his engineer partner and best friend. Predictably enough, Vaughn plays the motor-mouth hotshot, and James plays almost the same likeable doofus he played in Hitch. The hitch here is that Nick, who compares marriage to comfort food, has no clue that his wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), has a hot young stud muffin on the side. Ronny discovers the affair while preparing a location in a botanical garden where he can propose to his longtime girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly). He falls into a patch of poisonous plants and contracts a horrible rash, akin to how Hitch swelled up from shellfish, and that’s not the worst example of the recycled padding The Dilemma uses to expand a sitcom concept into a feature-length movie. The Dilemma has little to feature other than Vaughn’s by-now clichéd glibness and a quick goose at Ryder’s good-girl image.

Adding to Ronny’s artificially inflated quandary—he stalks Geneva’s boy toy and lies to Beth about it—is the pressure Nick is under to produce an electric-car engine that roars and vibrates like a 1950s muscle car. As the deadline with their contract with Dodge (apparently the film’s sponsor) approaches, Ronny’s crazed behavior accelerates, leading to the film’s one and only funny scene, in which Ronny proposes an acutely inappropriate toast to Beth’s parents on their wedding anniversary. Written by Alan Loeb, The Dilemma isn’t as abysmally contrived as his script for The Switch, but as a brand-name screenwriter, Loeb is on a par with the fake vroom-zoom of a computerized V-8 sound effect.

—Ann Morrow


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