The Review: 2011 is shaping up to be a year of sequels, remakes and re-imaginings. There are half a dozen major comic book properties clogging up our multiplexes this summer, and the fact that this one is escaping in the middle of winter and was originally a radio serial is no obstacle to its box office aspirations. The Green Hornet is one of those properties that you may be aware of, rather than having an innate familiarity with, with the most famous incarnation being the TV series that gave Bruce Lee his first taste of fame. The principle is always pretty simple – masked vigilantes fight crime with unconventional methods and a cool black car. It’s been in development for an astonishing seventeen years, and during that time George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Jake Gyllenhall, Jet Li and Stephen Chou were all considered to appear in front of the camera, and Kevin Smith, Christopher McQuarrie and Michel Gondry were all at one stage attached behind it. Gondry would have originally made this his feature film debut back in 1997, and the Hollywood merry-go-round was spinning so long that ten years later, he stepped on and ended up being the person to shepherd it to the screen.
Gondry’s had a very varied career in that ten year gap; an all-time classic in the shape of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, but some of his other work could best be described as ramshackle, including the well-intentioned but terminally shabby Be Kind Rewind. He undoubtedly has an extensive visual box of tricks, which he’s put to use over the past twenty years in a variety of formats, but he has proven that he’s better with the visuals, and sometimes if the actors aren’t of the highest calibre then he may struggle to get the best from them. But in all the other areas that counts, Gondry delivers in the Green Hornet – there’s plenty of clean action sequences and Gondry uses his tricks to give many of them a unique spin, the pacing is well handled and Gondry handles the shifts in tone well.
Being a comic book movie in nature, The Green Hornet doesn’t demand Shakespearean theatrics, but there is a good, talented cast here – in places. Christoph Waltz seems to have won himself a rent-a-bad-guy career following his Oscar winning turn for Tarantino, and does what he can with a neurotic bad guy role, but shows he can still flip between humour and malice at will. Jay Chou may not have been the first name on most people’s lists of potential Katoes, and he does struggle with English in a few places (a fact that the script willingly acknowledges), but he’s got just about enough winning charisma to see him through in the role; sadly I don’t think it will have the same effect on his career as it did on Bruce Lee’s. Which brings us to Cameron Diaz. You may read other reviews which feel that Diaz’s role serves no purpose, although the script casts her as the criminologist unwittingly feeding ideas to the leads, but she does actually have a crucial role.
Y’see, whenever Seth Rogen isn’t looking unbelievably gormless enough, or just comes over as a partially raging mysoginst instead of a complete and total one, Diaz is there as a foil, allowing Rogen’s Britt Reed to sink to yet another new low. Rogen has lifted a lot of comedies he’s been in previously, but here he sucks the good will out like a vacuum, and the movie generally works better when he’s not talking. The odd thing is that, given that he and writing partner Evan Goldberg wrote the script, he’s pretty much done this to himself. The general story is in keeping with the Green Hornet mythology established since the original radio days, which calls for Reid to be at odds with both the good and the bad guys. The main problem is that Rogen and Goldberg have chosen to achieve this by making Britt Reid a complete and utter arse, who every time he’s given a choice chooses to continue being an arse, and the only character traits he develops across the vast majority of the running time don’t do him any favours. So there’s a lead character who it’s very hard to root for, but if you can find yourself at least tolerating him then you should actually have a pretty good time with this.
Why see it at the cinema: Satisfying action, Gondry’s off the wall visual stylings and a decent amount of laughs make this a good package if you’re looking for a Saturday night at the multiplex with a big bag of popcorn.
Why see it in 3D: Here the arguments are less compelling. It’s a conversion job, and while it’s not as bad as the execrable Clash Of The Titans remake from last year, it lacks the depth of field to look convincingly 3D for long periods or any real stand out in-your-face moments.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: It’s amazing how one piece of furniture can affect a whole career. Who knows what would have happened to the last few years of Tom Cruise’s career if he hadn’t jumped around on Oprah’s sofa with such ill-advised abandon? One can only hope that he might have been getting better material than this. Five years ago, Tom was still a major box office draw, able to mix Spielberg efforts like War of the Worlds with smaller projects such as Collateral and everyone still respected him. Since then, a string of flops, even in some cases where the material has been good, and now expectations have been dialled down for a new Cruise movie.
Cameron Diaz has also not had much luck in recent years, although her career downturn goes back slightly further, having never really recovered (at least, apart from voicing Princess Fiona) to the eye-shattering mess that was the Charlie’s Angels sequel. Both stars have managed to make some interesting acting choices over the years, so you’d hope that they could manage to come up with something at least half decent here. But you’d hope wrong.
Where to start? Might as well start with the performances themselves, which have little enough chemistry in the opening plane sequences, but soon the actors take on the appearance of people who’ve been paid up front and don’t feel they have anything to prove. At points, this less resembles a film and more a competition to see who can give the least interesting reading of a line. The script is devoid of anything approaching genuine wit, and on repeated occasions you see situations coming a mile off and find yourself thinking immediately of better pay-offs or wittier comebacks. (In the case of one particular scene, most of those were in the Lethal Weapon movies twenty or more years ago – and even the last of those didn’t feel as tired or disinterested as this.) The supporting cast are no better, Paul Dano feels like he’s in the wrong film (but that one wouldn’t be any better) and Peter Sarsgaard manages to reach new levels of not-acting and viewer boredom.
The whole movie is devoid of suspense, believable threat or indeed, by the end, logic, but the biggest disappointment are the action sequences. For about five seconds, a Spanish set-piece near the end, with motorbikes whizzing through tight city streets and low slung cameras sets the pulses racing, but only serves to highlight what a crushing disappointment the rest of the action is – when you manage to make the crashing of a commercial airliner into the countryside feel so devoid of interest, you’ve achieved something, just not something to be proud of. The best analogy is to imaging playing a videogame where you cannot lose a life – at no point do you feel even remotely like the characters are in any kind of peril, which for an action movie like this is near fatal to its ambitions. For Cruise and Diaz die-hards only.
Why see it at the cinema: Cameron Diaz in a bikini. That’s all I’ve got. There was quite a good movie in here somewhere, but sadly you won’t be seeing it, thanks to the ineptitude of all concerned.
The Score: 3/10
The Review: So many times over the years, we’ve gotten not one but two similar movies within a short space of time. And for every Deep Impact and Armageddon, or Dante’s Peak and Volcano, there generally has to be a winner (although with Dante’s Peak and Volcano, that certainly wasn’t the audience). So this summer we have the pitch battle between the “final” films in two once loved computer animated movies, and this is the one that isn’t Toy Story. Shrek got a whole lotta love for his first two appearances, but then something went fairly horribly wrong for the third movie, which seemed to simply regurgitate everything good from the first two that it didn’t simply dispense with altogether.
So, is fourth time the charm? This is a Shrek movie that’s at least trying to get back to its roots, both figuratively and literally. The first movie was built on a simple story with a single villain, while Shrek moved through it learning some of Dreamworks’ trademarked life lessons on the way. (Annoyingly, almost every Dreamworks movie except one has had pretty much the same moral, when you stop to think about it.) The fourth movie manages to repeat this feet by helping every one of the other characters to forget who Shrek is, so he can take that journey over again, except this time knowing where he wants it to end.
Thankfully, I’d forgotten most of the third movie, it was so unmemorable – I think Dreamworks are making the same bet, as we have a completely different Rumpelstiltskin from the last movie as the main villain this time around, and while he’s no Fairy Godmother or Lord Farquad, he’s not bad. The decision to bring back some of the more successful recurring characters, such as the King and Queen, but thankfully to leave some of the lesser ones such as Artie behind, gives a slightly leaner feel. Everyone of the four main leads does what they’ve been doing for the last three movies, which means most of the best lines go to Antonio Banderas’ Puss and the rest to Eddie Murphy’s Donkey, but Shrek himself gets more interesting things to do as himself since probably the first movie, and that surprisingly works to the movie’s advantage as well.
So be under no illusions, let no powders have clouded your mind. If you loved the first two but didn’t like the third so much, chances are you’ll be pitching this one somewhere just above middle. The whole shebang moves along at a good pace, there’s a lively sprinkling of action set pieces and it’s all pleasantly enjoyable. The main problem is that it all runs along at good, without ever really hitting spectacular, hilarious or moving, a pleasant diversion but probably one that leads down a one way street that Shrek should stay down. Unfortunately, in the battle with Toy Story 3, I fear this one is going to be the one to lose out. Sorry, Shrek.
Why see it at the cinema: There’s plenty of communal funnies to share, and a couple of witch on ogre battles that, while they won’t give Peter Jackson any sleepless nights, still benefit from the larger screen to show off all the detail.
Why see it in 3D: The reactions of the kids in the screening I went to were fantastic, lots of “aahs” and “oohs”. But truth be told, the most in-your-face 3D moment is in the Dreamworks logo at the beginning; after that, it’s mostly for visual depth.
The Score: 7/10