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“The Green Hornet,” Reviewed

“The Green Hornet,” Reviewed (photo)

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Here is a case of a producer letting down his writer and star, and the producer, writer, and star are all the same guy. That guy would be Seth Rogen, the charming comedian (and creator) of movies like “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express.” Rogen the writer’s script for “The Green Hornet” is the perfect set-up for Rogen the actor: an ordinary guy with no superpowers or skills decides to fight crime so he’s forced to rely on his sidekick Kato to provide him with weapons, gadgets, and muscle. The film is all about the interplay between The Hornet and Kato, their relationship and their rivalry. In other words, this “Hornet” is superhero movie as buddy comedy, catnip for a gifted improviser like Rogen.

Herein lies the problem: in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” Rogen partnered with Steve Carell and Paul Rudd. In “Pineapple Express,” he worked with the versatile James Franco. In “Green Hornet,” Rogen the producer saddled Rogen the actor with Jay Chou, a handsome Taiwanese pop star with a limited grasp of English. That leaves us with a buddy film starring an exceptional improviser and a guy who can’t improvise because he can’t speak the language. No surprise, then, that Hornet and Kato’s friendship, so central to the plot of the film, feel forced and uneven.

“Forced and uneven” is actually a good way to describe this version of “The Green Hornet.” It was directed by the Michel Gondry, the talented and inventive filmmaker behind “Eternal Sunshine and the Spotless Mind” and “Be Kind Rewind,” but bears little of his personal stamp. It doesn’t have the handmade quality or visual dexterity of “a Gondry film.” Instead it feels like “a Neal H. Moritz film” — he’s one of the producers of “The Green Hornet” as well as “The Fast & the Furious” and “xXx” franchises. It’s loud, slick, and relies heavily on pop music and sleight-of-hand editing to keep the film moving so fast audiences don’t have time to notice how little they care about the characters or story.

Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg’s take on the material, though, is smart. Rogen plays Britt Reid, the do-nothing heir of newspaper tycoon and Hall of Fame bad father James Reid (Tom Wilkinson). When James dies a hero, the vindictive Britt can’t stand it. So he convinces Kato, the guy who makes his coffee in the morning who also happens to be an incredibly gifted mechanic, inventor, and martial artist, to help him desecrate his father’s grave. Along the way the pair accidentally break up a mugging, and decide they’ve found a new calling in life as crimefighters. But while The Green Hornet gets all the attention, Kato’s both the brains and the brawn behind the operation. That stirs up enough jealousy to rip the team apart.

The unspoken truth of The Green Hornet’s 1960s TV show was the fact that he, the nominal star, was frequently upstaged by his much cooler sidekick (a very young but already awesome Bruce Lee). Turning that simmering tension into the focal point of the film is a stroke of genius. So is the spin on the Hornet’s M.O.: his whole schtick is that he’s a hero who poses as a villain in order to destroy the underworld from within. But really that conceit doesn’t make a ton of sense (why not just outwardly act like hero?) and it makes a lot more sense that this none-too-brilliant plan would be formulated by a guy like Rogen’s Hornet, who’s kind of a dope.

In Rogen and Goldberg’s conception, Britt and Kato are less superheroes than well-armed anarchist pranksters, the dudes from “Jackass” with gas guns and a missile launching car. Britt and Kato like to claim they’re “helping people” but we never see them help anyone after that first night. Instead, they tool around Los Angeles in their Black Beauty limousine, blowing up traffic cameras and beating up drug dealers for kicks.

That’s a pretty subversive notion for the superhero genre, but the film glosses over it on the way to another big action sequence. In fact, “The Green Hornet” often plays like a mainstream movie uncomfortably fashioned from iconoclastic raw materials. Quirky ideas are tossed out and then immediately abandoned for the sake of pacing and accessibility. This, too, plays against Rogen’s strength, which is to dawdle and riff, rather than rush. The finished film plays like the cinematic equivalent of a cobblestone road that’s been repaved with blacktop. The ride’s smooth, but at the expense of the character and personality. That’s certainly true of the film’s generic villain, Chudnofsky (“Inglourious Basterds”‘ Christoph Waltz). Wisps of a subplot involving an aging crime lord facing obsolence remain, but the meat of his arc must have gotten lost along the way from script to screen. Rogen and Chou get plenty of screentime, but for whatever reason — temperament, acting style, language barrier — they never quite connect.

A few moments have that Gondry touch. There is one truly outstanding sequence, a montage that takes full advantage of the film’s otherwise forgettable 3D effects to showcase the spread of information through the Los Angeles underground. And Gondry’s speed-shifting approach to Kato’s badass fighting style is both playful and exciting. But a lot of this movie looks like it could have been directed by anybody. The idea of a Rogen/Gondry collaboration was intriguing — and I would be interested to see what these men could do together with total creative freedom — but the results this time don’t come close to equaling their potential. In that sense, “The Green Hornet,” a film about how easily a promising and unusual creative partnership can blow up in the partners’ faces, is the perfect metaphor for itself.

(NOTE: I have gone this entire review without mentioning Cameron Diaz, the female lead of this movie. Truth be told, I had forgotten Diaz was even in the movie until just now, which says quite a bit about her role and her performance.)

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.