David Gordon Green is this close to getting his very own animated MTV show — “Good Vibes,” 12 episodes about “two high school surfer dudes living near the beach in California.” This after “Pineapple Express” (and preceding “Your Highness,” a medieval-ish action fantasy), which means Green’s work is getting awfully stoner-friendly these days.
“Good Vibes,” if it makes it to the air, will be the first significant non-reality show to make it onto MTV in quite a while. Unfortunately, it could join the roster of weird animated ’90s shows like “The Maxx” and “The Head” that survived just long enough to acquire small cult followings.
More interesting is the news that Green is now apparently committed to working within the studio system until they kick him out; he’s not a one-for-me, one-for-them kind of guy. He’s even still trying to get a “Suspiria” remake off the ground.
That tinkering mode makes David Gordon Green an heir to the Steven Soderbergh mad scientist school of cinema. Both seem determined to check off every micro-genre from the checklist while remaining stylistically distinctive. (Sort of: “Pineapple Express” was deliberately anonymous, in the spirit of the mediocre ’80s movies it was so deliberately courting.)
The difference is tonal: Soderbergh is instinctively a chilly, cerebral filmmaker who’s unconcerned with what audiences want (the “Ocean’s” movies are pleasing because that’s part of the concept), while Green — even at his artiest — is instinctively a populist (the lushness of “George Washington” and “All The Real Girls” is there to dilute the sting of the more painful material).
The problem may turn out to be that Green is a little too committed to playing within the genre rules as much as possible. It’s hard to imagine Soderbergh paying such scrupulous homage to the likes of “Tango & Cash” (one of Green’s favorite movies) without trying to tinker with the formula. But there (and on “Eastbound and Down,” where Green flawlessly imitated Jody Hill’s style while he was out of town), Green demonstrated his willingness to purge everything interesting about his work if necessary.
That would be fine if he had Soderbergh’s command of genre tinkering, but Green’s best moments are instinctual rather than conceptual. Still, it’s interesting to watch him try to turn himself into a studio hand marrying his sensibility to the goal of turning Hollywood movies back to the ’70s and ’80s populist films he loves so much.
[Photos: “Pineapple Express,” Columbia Pictures, 2008; “Tango & Cash,” Warner Bros., 1989]