— by CAM SMITH —
Being a near-obsessive movie buff, I’m a major sucker for superhero pictures. I love watching respected character actors being plunked into form-fitting rubber suits and engaging in CG-enhanced fisticuffs with absurdly-nicknamed megalomaniacs.
It’s exciting to watch how each newly launched property establishes its own unique rules and mythology, a vaguely recognizable world that envelopes us and allows us free reign to let our 12-year-old geek inhibitions run rampant.
Conversely, as a frequent film writer, I find myself constantly on a dogged search for something fresh and exhilarating, waiting for a prospective project with a stylish twist or an unconventional new visionary talent to come along and carry me away from the Hollywood-propagated swell of apathetic remakes, unnecessary sequels and brain damage-inducing family comedies starring The Rock.
So why, then, aren’t I more energized about the impending film version of “The Green Hornet”?
I mean, it does feature the requisite dude-in-cool-get-up; a fedora wearing, mask-rocking newspaper-publisher-by-day/vigilante-by-night who takes on the sinister San Franciscan mob-land forces with little more than his wits, fists, high-tech car and a sonic-blast gun (Dubbed the “Hornet’s Sting” for extra-cool points!). Oh, and he also has a name-taking, ass-kicking manservant named Kato! I mean, if this doesn’t sound like every young boy’s fantasy-come-to-life I don’t know what does. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with a kung fu master, wear a groovy disguise and save the city?
Even the pedigree behind the scenes is impeccable, with the uber-talented Michel Gondry, the dream-master virtuoso behind the wonderful post-modern love story “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” at the helm and sharp Canadian funny man and scribe Seth Rogen — along with “Superbad” co-writer Evan Goldberg — responsible for reintroducing the lesser known hero to a whole new generation. Tack on a richly diverse cast including Cameron Diaz, Edward James Olmos, Tom Wilkinson, Chris Waltz — in his first post-Inglourious Basterds role as the movie’s chief villain — and potential breakout star Jay Chou and you have the formula for a flick almost guaranteed to be unlike any other big-dollar blockbuster on the considerably busy horizon.
Nevertheless, despite all of these strengths, I remain a tad ambivalent. Perhaps part of the problem stems from the film’s troubled history, with original director and Kato, Stephen Chow, dropping out over “creative differences,” first baddie choice Nicolas Cage running, hairpiece in hand, for the hills and a rash of postponed start-dates. Even though “The Green Hornet” now holds a firm Dec. 22, 2010, release date, it’s hard to lower the guard and become emotionally invested in such a weird, risky project, especially given the current economic climate, where budgetary complications can spring up at any conceivable moment (just ask Steven Soderbergh).
Recent set photos have looked nifty — as far as muddy shots of a costumed Rogen climbing a hill in a suit can look nifty, at least — and yet it’s hard not to feel slightly primed for disappointment.
Similarly, these creative upsets have myself, and numerous writers out in web-land, completely thrown for a loop in terms of what to possibly expect. Stephen Chow’s attachment gave the impresson of a movie in the wacky, semi-surreal veign of “Kung Fu Hustle,” but what does Gondry bring to a project like this? Reverie-like whimsy and deadpan humor? Collider ran an interview with Rogen in which he stated that the French auteur would do anything but the expected. So what exactly does that mean? We all love mystery, but the cloak of secrecy around “Hornet” just seems befuddling.
Perhaps there’s also the fear of becoming too attached to something one guesses will be ill-received by the mainstream public. It’s no secret that Rogen is on slippery ice with audiences lately — judging from the returns of “Funny People,” “Observe and Report” and “Zack and Miri Make A Porno” — and there are smarter financial decisions than casting him as the lead in a 100-million-dollar superhero epic. Indeed, this may be his greatest test as a movie star, attempting to draw his questionable number of die-hard fans to a possibly arty action effort devoid of crude sex acts and surprise body fluids.
Certainly, the property itself is going to prove a mighty tough sell — especially with Frank Miller’s not-so-dissimilar-looking nocturnal crime-fighter “The Spirit” making it a lot harder for a ’30s-era-looking heroes to be taken seriously. It also doesn’t help matters much that Hornet’s real name is Britt Reid, a name which makes him sound like either a female bassist in a modern-day all-girl rock band or a Roosevelt-era trigonometry teacher. And how much confusion will result from audiences mixing up the Gondry/Rogen joint with the impending, correspondingly-hued Ryan Reynolds DC adaptation “Green Lantern”?
A major problem is that “Hornet” lacks any branding awareness with the 18- to 24-year-old movie-goers who are the most valuable to marketers (while my mom apparently read the comics regularly as a spry young ‘un, it’s extremely doubtful that she, or others of her demographic, will be in any way encouraged by the advertising to attend).
Less so, for sure, than an Ìron Man, Daredevil or Thor, who at least have the mighty Marvel imprint backing them, assuring for a decent opening. Heck, even a comic-book reader like myself has only the faintest experience with the hero (less even than the moronic, ill-fated, NFL-themed hero SuperPro). My smidgen of familiarity is derived solely from an old crossover episode of the ’60s “Batman” show in which Hornet (Van Johnson) and Kato (Bruce Lee) helping the dynamic duo crack a, uh, stamp factory counterfeiting ring. Exciting stuff, no doubt, but I really only remember thinking that Van Johnson was no Adam West.
So, in essence, all we’re left with then is an obscure and somewhat out-dated comic-book hero, without superpowers or big, colourful arch-enemies, being sold on the shoulders of an unreliable box-office draw working well outside his comfort zone with a wunderkind director appreciated by few outside of the indie-film cult. With only these faintly tangible threads to grasp onto, “Hornet” seems like the scrappiest of dark horses, a major risk venture for all involved that has the potential to significantly alter the courses of a number of healthy careers. No pressure, at all!
Some battles appear too big for even the bravest of souls, and the most exciting, celebratory box office stories entail odd-ball, no-public-confidence projects unexpectedly grabbing hold of the movie-going consciousness without warning and not letting go. Whether “The Green Hornet” has the moxy to deliver on that promise or not will be determined around Christmastime in 2010. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can guarantee that curiosity, and a touch of underdog spirit, will put my butt in a theatre seat to find out if, or not, it succeeds.
Follow Cam Smith on Twitter at http://twitter.com/camspcepisodes.