"Batman,” “Spider-Man” and “Iron Man” have all proven that the comic book franchise can be lucrative and creative, but the latest entry in the genre, “The Green Hornet,” makes the case that the well may be drying up.
Despite some cool gadgets and an intriguing feature film debut from Jay Chou, this is a rather mediocre action adventure that quickly gets stuck in neutral, then resorts to a final act that is extremely violent and ugly.
Based on the television series, Seth Rogen stars as Britt Reid, a spoiled slacker who becomes the publisher of Los Angeles’ biggest newspaper, “The Daily Sentinel,” following the sudden death of his father (Tom Wilkinson).
When Britt and one of his father’s personal employees, Kato (Chou), inadvertently stop a robbery, Britt decides the pair should become crime fighters - the catch being they pose as bad guys with the purpose of stopping criminals.
Before long, Britt has transformed into his new persona, the Green Hornet, drawing the attention of the city’s most notorious crime boss, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz).
“Green Hornet” starts off promisingly enough, playing it straight and quickly establishing Chou as a legit action star.
But it doesn’t take long for the film’s flaws to show up, leaving “Hornet” spiraling into mediocrity. The biggest problem is that Rogen, who also wrote the screenplay, plays Britt just like the same slacker character he’s played in films like “Knocked Up” and “Pineapple Express.” His shtick doesn’t work here, clashing with a film that grows increasingly violent with each reel.
At first, Waltz, so brilliant in “Inglourious Basterds,” is underused. When his character finally gets extensive screen time, his character goes from sinister to silly, completely wasting Waltz’s talents.
Cameron Diaz is also thrown in as a love interest that creates friction between Britt and Kato, but it all feels forced and Diaz’s character just doesn’t work.
If this mess of a film was in the hands of a novice director, it could have been completely dreadful. Instead, it is in the hands of the talented Michel Gondry (the man behind “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”). Gondry can’t save the film from Rogen the actor and Rogen the screenwriter, completely wasting a chance to give the franchise the same boost Christopher Nolan gave the “Batman” series.
If Gondry had been given a little more flexibility, I think this could have worked. Instead you get a movie that will likely be just good enough to please its loyal fan base, but not good enough to expand beyond that.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Animal Kingdom” (B), a slick little Australian crime picture that might just get Jacki Weaver an Oscar nomination Tuesday.
“Kingdom” tells the story of Josh (James Frecheville), a 17-year-old boy forced to live with his grandmother (Weaver), who oversees the criminal activities of her three sons (Ben Mendelsohn, Luke Ford and Sullivan Stapleton).
Before long, Josh is immersed in the seedy underbelly of Melbourne crime, desperately trying to find his footing. When it appears that his only way out might be to turn against his family and be a key witness for the police, Josh quickly learns that his family ties are shaky at best.
Writer/director David Michod does a great job of crafting a rather shady film with unlikeable characters that isn’t easy to watch, but remains fascinating throughout.
Young Frecheville is believable, both naive and street smart enough to stay afloat, while Mendelsohn is quite disturbing as the most psychotic of the three brothers.
But it is Weaver’s role that has garnered the most attention. Her performance as a slimy crime boss who will stop at nothing to protect her sons is quite memorable and has earned Weaver several year-end awards as Best Supporting Actress. I’d take the two women from “The Fighter” (Melissa Leo and Amy Adams) over her, but I certainly think it’s a performance that deserves to be rewarded with a nomination Tuesday.
“Animal Kingdom” is rated R for violence, drug content and pervasive language and is available on DVD.