For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
Few would-be tentpole pictures have had more torturous development
periods than “The Green Hornet,” dating back nearly 20 years.
In promotions for the now-finished film, star Seth Rogen and director Michel Gondry have trashed several of those attempts — which would have seen Nicolas Cage speaking in a Jamaican accent or Stephen Chow using mind-control chips — as too ridiculous for what they eventually birthed.
How, then, do they explain their version’s sped-up, “Benny Hill”-style sequences? What do they call their main characters soaring through the sky on a parachute-equipped ejector seat, out of which pops a turntable, its needle dropping on a classical LP? Or the scene of our superheroes rapping along to Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” while on the prowl for evildoers?
And they suggest Cage’s presence would have lowered those lofty standards? Really? I don’t know whether it’s reassuring or an ill portent that 2011 already has a solid candidate for the year’s worst film, but “Hornet” is it.
Rogen (“Funny People”) dons the mask as The Green Hornet, aka Britt Reid, the pampered, trust-fund/party-boy product of the loins of an unloving newspaper publisher (Tom Wilkinson, “The Ghost Writer”). When Daddy dies, Britt reluctantly takes the reins of The Daily Sentinel, using it primarily to position his nighttime activities as a public scourge.
The way he and chauffeur sidekick Kato (Taiwanese pop singer Jay Chou, “Curse of the Golden Flower”) figure it, if they can pass themselves off as villains, they can earn the trust of the city’s criminal underworld, and thus, take them down with relative ease.
And if Britt can bang his secretary (Cameron Diaz, “Knight and Day”) in the meantime, well, win-win.
But we lose. The entire action-comedy comes predicated on Rogen’s one-note shtick, which I find entirely tiresome. It can be broken down into three elements: yelling his lines, pointing at himself, and peppering every other sentence with the word “shit.” At least that choice applies.
With its jerry-rigged slapstick and obvious-yet-unfunny jokes, I felt embarrassment for so many of the principals involved, with the exception of Rogen, who can only blame himself as co-writer/co-producer. (Who else harbors a start-to-finish penchant for testicle punching?) As Hornet’s default nemesis, Chudnofsky, Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”) is not handed a role so much as a piece of cardboard.
The lone cast member emerging unscathed is Chou (catch him next week when the Oklahoma City Museum of Art screens his 2008 basketball vehicle “Kung Fu Dunk”). While not yet a master of the English language, the man steals the screen with clean-cut charisma, requiring no translation. Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) showcases Chou in the fight scenes, as Kato takes on multiple goons at once, moving fast while they collapse in slow-motion.
That’s the one nifty trick the arty Gondry brings to the table; otherwise, he’s out of his comfort zone and in over his head. This shows in each minute of an agonizing two hours.
Don’t bother. But especially don’t bother with the 3-D screenings; like “Clash of the Titans,” “Hornet” was converted to the format post-production, rather than shot in it. That’s why only the end credits carry any pop, provided you last that long. —Rod Lott