High Come Down – The Colossal Disappointment of “The Green Hornet”
Have you ever been excited about the idea of something so much that when you eventually got to experience that it ultimately let you down in unimaginable ways? Of course you have. It happens to all of us. We’re movie fans because the good ones elicit a certain joy and giddiness in us that we strive for. It makes us feel a high different from other types of excitement and we’re on a continuous search to find a new way to feel the same thing. Some choose drugs. Some choose movies. Some combine them and watch “Trainspotting.”
The goal of this series is to highlight movies that carried high expectations not necessarily by the movie-going public at-large, but by me, that for any number of reasons, I felt were colossal disappointments. Since you’re undoubtedly wondering, the title of the series refers to a Chico & Coolwadda song featuring Nate Dogg (listen here). It’s about the times our dreams are dashed, placed on the street and given the “American History X” treatment. There are many reasons why I can be excited about an upcoming project. It could be the director, the stars, the concept or any other myriad of possibilities. I’ll highlight what excited me about the film in the lead-up to seeing it and then accompany it with why it so went so horribly wrong that I felt I needed to write a piece about it.
I’ve struggled when deciding if I wanted to go forth with this series (even though this if the first installment). Being negative is easy. And being negative on the Internet seems like its sole purpose. It’s so rampant that I can’t bring myself to read comments. Not just on my stuff, but anyone’s. Every idiot is allowed to have a voice and ten times to one (if not more), that voice is one of criticism. My goal is not to add to that. However, I realize a series about “Colossal Disappointments” isn’t particularly an exercise in positivity. However, my intent isn’t to rip or tear down. The reason these films disappointed me is because I wanted to like them. Not only wanted, but expected to like. And because my expectations weren’t met, I was disappointed. I like the filmmakers involved. They’ve already won me over and I root for them to continue to do so. In these instances, however, my excitement came to a standstill.
“The Green Hornet,” you made my high come down.
Why I was excited:
At the height of this site posting movie news, “The Green Hornet” information had just been breaking. I was all over it. I wanted to cover every tidbit and angle, purely due to the very first morsel to come down the pike: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were writing a “Green Hornet” movie and Rogen was slated to star.
I might have expressed ambivalence about the news, initially. I remember “The Green Hornet” having a campy ‘60s show in the vein of the Adam West-starring “Batman,” and that Bruce Lee played the title character’s sidekick, Kato. But I had no special connection to the series. The casting of Rogen as a “superhero,” was odd, but so was Heath Ledger as the Joker and Robert Downey Jr. in “Iron Man.” Out of the box casting decisions had been knocked out of the park before.
However, the casting (to this point) was inconsequential to my excitement. I was excited for the script. Ever since “Knocked Up,” I’d been a huge Rogen fan (yes, I’m fully aware he didn’t write it). He was about my age and had a writing career I envied, starting with writing for “Undeclared” at 20 years old, in addition to “Da Ali G Show” (which I think is one of the weirdest and coolest credits to have). He and Goldberg had written “Superbad,” which I fully enjoyed and “Pineapple Express,” which I thought had some moments (the trailer alone was one of the best two minutes of the past several years) and thus I was happy to welcome another project from the duo with open arms, figuring I was in for another laugh-fest.
Then, there were discussions about who should direct the movie. I remember Harry Knowles voting for James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”) and when Stephen Chow (“Kung Fu Hustle”) was considering starring as Kato, he was also in line to direct. Neither choice would’ve moved me, but it also wouldn’t have negatively influenced me purely because of my thoughts on the potential script. Then, they made such a radically brilliant choice, I could hardly contain myself (just look at the exclamation points on this headline). I think Michel Gondry is a bit of a genius. His in-camera creativity is so much more special than any CGI effects. One of the most frequently popped-in DVDs I own is the disc of his music videos that was released. $100 couldn’t get me to part with it (unless it could be used to buy a new one). I’d also seen “Human Nature,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Science of Sleep” and “Be Kind Rewind.” “Eternal Sunshine” is undoubtedly great, but I’d only seen it once. For me, my excitement was almost completely based on those music videos.
The combination of Rogen and Gondry was I all needed for the film to be one of my most anticipated of 2010 (when it was originally slated to be released), alongside only “Inception,” “Toy Story 3” and “The Social Network” (semi-coincidentally, those three films landed as my three favorites of the year, “The Green Hornet” obviously did not), but they decided to throw in a bonus, as well. The film had originally cast Nickel Gage Cage as the villain, but due to “creative differences” (the rumor was Cage wanted to speak in a Jamaican accent), he exited the project. Stepping in was Christoph Waltz. He had just come off winning Best Supporting Actor for my favorite film of ’09 (“Inglourious Basterds”) and was absolutely one of the many brilliant parts of that movie.
With three things I knew I enjoyed, coming together as one, I was primed for brilliance.
What went wrong:
Let’s start with the script. Not the text itself. I don’t know what the original drafts looked like. I don’t know what the studio demanded. I didn’t hear the notes Rogen and Goldberg were given. What I know is that what was on screen didn’t give me what I expected. When you hear Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are writing a superhero movie, you expect an action-comedy based on their past credentials. I believe an action-comedy is what this movie is supposed to be, but there are two issues I see in that description. I don’t believe the movie contains much action, nor do I find it to be very comedic. I think the film tries for these things. I also think it doesn’t succeed.
I laughed exactly once during the movie. And remember, I think Rogen is hilarious. It was at the end of the film when Britt Reid fakes taking a bullet from the Green Hornet to completely dispense of the Hornet as a “hero” to be clamored for. Everything else fell flat for me. Remember when James Franco tries kicking out the windshield of the police car in “Pineapple Express?” That was funny because it subverts expectations (kinda like this movie. Maybe the joke was on me for watching it and/or expecting to like it). Here, there was none of that (save for the scene I just described as making me laugh).
What constitutes “action” is completely up for argument. I can understand that. However, I would contest that there’s essentially only one action sequence in the film. And it’s about a fifteen-minute stretch toward the end that entails the Black Beauty being bifurcated by an elevator. That’s not a knock. That’s fine. What’s disheartening (the punny definition) is until that sequence, the film seems to be sorely lacking any pulse at all.
And that’s where Michel Gondry comes in. You’ll notice I didn’t touch upon his films outside of “Eternal Sunshine” as being reasons for optimism. And that’s because I don’t hold them in much esteem. “I’ve seen “Human Nature” once, and while not hated, think it’s completely forgettable. I actually hadn’t made it all the way through “Science of Sleep” and “Be Kind Rewind” was the worst movie of 2008 that I had seen, largely due to my disappointment in it failing to meet my expectations (though I’ll spare you the “High Come Down” piece about that film). Now, it could be argued that I should have known what I was in for. Or that I should’ve known it was at least a possibility. However, the conclusion I decided to draw from “Science of Sleep” and “Be Kind Rewind” is that Gondry shouldn’t be a writer. A great visual artist, but not the guy you want in control of your story and dialogue. Rogen and Goldberg’s script was supposed to alleviate that issue.
Unfortunately, what I got was a film that was decidedly un-Gondry-like. For the vast majority of the film, you’d be hard-pressed to think anybody other than Directing Bot 5000 was behind the camera. As an ardent fan, I’d say there were only five moments in which Gondry put his stamp on the movie. Sadly, all of them probably add up to about four minutes of screen time and three of them were “Kato Vision.”
I had read about “Kato Vision” before I ever witnessed it. Rogen was interviewed about the choice of Gondry as director and he talked about Gondry developing a technique using different shutter speeds. This comes into play when Kato focuses on a weapon, it’s highlighted on screen, and he works to dislodge the item from the soon-to-be victim. It’s pretty similar to the technique used by Guy Ritchie to show off Sherlock Holmes’ intuitive brilliance in those films. As I said, it’s used three times and not for particularly long stretches.
One of the other two distinct Gondry moments came in the form of a killing-spree montage of Christoph Waltz’ re-dubbed Bloodnofsky, creating terror in the streets in order to grab the headline-attention away from The Green Hornet.
Speaking of Waltz, I don’t think he’s very good in this. To be honest, it kind of made me question if Colonel Hans Landa was just a lightning-in-a-bottle performance. Luckily, I was fully dsimissed of that notion in “Django Unchained,” for which he deservedly won a second Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Though that role was essentially written for him, he blew me away in his first minute on screen, completely making me forget his “Green Hornet” role ever existed. But why didn’t it work? He’s obviously a fantastic actor.
The character of Chud-/Blood-nofsky means nothing to anyone watching this movie. He has little screen time. I guess his sole motivation as a gangster is he feels disrespected by others in the crime business. He wants to feel intimidating and strike fear in people, but isn’t viewed that way by anyone. It’s what should be a somewhat comedic premise, but like so much of the film, the character is devoid of laughter. Quentin Tarantino can wring guffaws from a Nazi, Jew-hunting detective, but here, it’s nil. You have to blame the writing. I don’t think there’s any other excuse. I still don’t find Waltz compelling with what he’s given, so I can’t point fingers at any party in particular, but this is just a shame.
For something that didn’t disappointment me from an expectations standpoint, but certainly contributed to the poor final product, was Kato actor, Jay Chou. He’s not good. I don’t know if Bruce Lee was a brutal actor during “The Green Hornet” TV show, and maybe he was, but Chou is just distracting. It’s not just that he doesn’t speak English good (that’s the joke), but his emoting is so rigid and stiff. He was chosen mainly for whatever martial arts prowess he has and I’m sure he’s accomplished in that area, but he rarely gets a chance to show it off. That’s more of a fault of the filmmaking than it is Chou, but if they were going to rein that aspect in so much, they might as well have sprung for someone with better acting chops.
As much as I was let down by individuals, I have an aching feeling the movie could have been much different had it not been funded by an overbearing studio. This affects so many elements, almost no one probably made the movie they would’ve wanted to make. As Larry David says, “a compromise is when (all) parties are equally dissatisfied.” I’m positive delivering a PG-13-ready script was in Rogen and Goldberg’s contract. Obviously PG-13 films can be good and well-made, but past precedence shows their brand of comedy works best in an R-rated setting. It’s almost as if knowing they’d need to water down their style drained some life from them and they delivered a tepid mess.
Studio politics undoubtedly kept Gondry from being Gondry, too. Guy Ritchie is someone with a distinct visual style who’s been able to maintain a portion of his inventiveness working within the studio system. However, like Gondry, there’s at least an equal amount of directors who aren’t able to deliver their brand of goods when kept at arms-length from doing so.
The studio certainly appeared to want to swing for the fences in making big out-of-the-box choices, but I have a feeling they shoulder a large part of the blame for only willing to take so many chances. As a result, “The Green Hornet” is the movie that inspired this series. The epitome of filmic disappointment. However, as you’ll see, it’s far from the only movie to let me down.
What to watch instead:
Now that I’ve relived the film breaking my spirit of expectations, I need to remind you and myself why there’s reason for hope with everybody involved again, just as there was going in. Instead of taking your time to rent and watch “The Green Hornet” or god forbid plunk down any hard-earned money on a DVD or Blu-ray, watch these instead:
The Michel Gondry music video DVD. Buy it here. Every White Stripes video is a piece of utter brilliance, but the unsung hero of the disc (although not all the interesting a song) is for Cibo Matta’s “Sugar Water.” It’s mind-boggling in its execution. You’ll become an instant fan and start anticipating Gondry’s next feature. Hopefully it won’t let you down.
The Tarantino/Christoph Waltz films (“Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained”). Don’t waste time with sub-par Waltz. See him at his completely deserving, awards-worthy best. He’ll make you respect a Nazi, Jew-hunting detective and redeem himself completely by setting a slave free to seek vengeance on abhorrent slave owners.
Any Seth Rogen-scripted IMDb entry prior to this. You can also probably skip “Drillbit Taylor.” Let’s say this one marked a semi-fall from grace. Just remember this guy is capable of bringing huge laughs. He’ll do it once again. We just need to wait for the right moment.
There are several recommendations amongst those three paragraphs. Spend some of your life enjoying yourself by watching any or all of them. If you ever you get too high, “The Green Hornet” is your mental Visine.