Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Green Hornet Dilemma

January 18, 2011

Combining the titles of the two movies I've seen in a theater most recently isn't just a matter of me being clever. There really is sort of a dilemma here, because the films kind of confounded me. The Dilemma came in below my expectations, while The Green Hornet actually somewhat exceeded them.

The Dilemma

I knew going in The Dilemma might be a problem. The reviews came in soft, and I was suspicious that a Ron Howard film was being released in January, which is usually a quality graveyard. Still, it IS Howard - can it be THAT bad?

Actually, yes, it  can. This is the rare Ron Howard film that is not only a misfire, but is actively unpleasant.

The ads sell the movie as a comedy, but it's only comedic in spurts. Long stretches of it are actually serious and sobering, as the story shows what happens when Vince Vaughn realizes that his best friend's wife is cheating on him. and he doesn't know how - or even if - he should tell his friend (Kevin James).

That storyline and of itself isn't the prolem, it's the shifts in tone around it. The dilemma becomes so dire that when Howard tries to let off the gas and bring a little comedy into the movie, it's jarring.

My colleague Hannah Potrualski liked the movie, making this one of our rare (so far) splits. She acknowledges Howard has made much better movies, like Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind. But she also said:

All this drama was balanced fairly well with the comedic moments. It was refreshing to have a “serious comedy.” There aren’t too many of them around. It makes the drama easier to handle and the silly moments more tangible.

The cast can't be faulted. This is one of Vaughn's better performances - one where he doesn't just crack wise but actually has to show some emotional range, and he does it well. Ditto Kevin James, who reminds us he's actually better than most of the dum-dum Adam Sandler-produced comedies he's in.  And it's especially nice to see Winona Ryder continue her hike on the comeback trail, with some of her strongest acting in years. As Hannah amusingly put it.

Winona Ryder was good in the film and is definitely making a bit of a comeback, with Black Swan as well — whether I like it or not. She does play bitch well. 

Alas, Jennifer Connelly is somewhat wasted in an underwritten part, and Hannah agrees with me on that.

Still, it isn't just Connelly - the movie as a whole manages to feel overdone and half baked at the same time. As written by Allan Loeb, the drama is too intense, and the comedy isn't funny enough to alleviate it.  At one point during the movie, one character absolutely wallops the other - and I felt like The Dilemma sucker-punched me.


(Viewed 1/16 at Rave Motion Pictures at the Greene)

The Green Hornet

The Dilemma may have stung me, but The Green Hornet did not - and I mean that as a compliment. 

As was the case with the Dilemma, the reviews came in negative, but the film ended up entertaining me, if not quite delighting me. 

Once again, we're faced with the odd sitauton of a seemingly A-production coming out in Janauary. This time there's a reason for it. The filmmakers decided late in the game to convert the film to 3D, after they had completed principal photography.

In most cases like that, (Clash of the Titans, The Last Airbender) the resuilts have been allegedly disastrous, but Green Hornet took a somewhat different tact - the visual effects, added in post, WERE specifically designed for 3D. And they work rather well. 

That's partly why The Green Hornet actually comes off better as an action flick than a comedy. Director Michel Gondry certainy isn't working on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind level here, but he's clearly having fun with visual devices like split screens, and he stages the action well. A climactic car chase/shoot-out INSIDE a newspaper building is especially inventive. I never thought I'd see rolling presses interpolated into an action scene, but thank goodness Gondry did. 

Hannah enjoyed the movie as well, but she is far less tolerant of action than I. She writes:

The film’s action scenes were highly scripted but in an interesting way. Chou’s supreme mental and fighting skills were so good and the viewer got a little glimpse into how his mind worked. But the scenes were just over-the-top in a way that I absolutely hate. Hence, why I rarely see action films — I have little to no suspension of disbelief. I saw the film in IMAX 3-D which really heightened the action scenes but otherwise was not noticeable.

The action is exciting well enough that it's disappointing the comedy falls somewhat flat. The chief downfall is its lead, Seth Rogen, who also co-wrote the film with his Superbad writing partner, Evan Goldberg. Rogen's shtick of a rowdy layabout has worn out its welcome and become grating. So it's a good thing that Jay Chou mitigates Rogen with a fun turn as Kato, the role made famous by Bruce Lee. I only wish Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) and Cameron Diaz hadn't been used mainly as exprssive props.

As far as superhero movies, one can do worse than The Green Hornet. One can do better too. Hopefully, this summer's Green Lantern will fall in the latter category. 


(Viewed 1/18/11 at Showcase Cinemas de lux) 

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