By G. Michael Dobbs
A new movie that is very bad and an old film that is very good are featured in this edition of the DVD review column.
Based on the initial preview and on the fact that comic actor Michael Keaton as Batman made the leap to credible superhero, I was more than willing to give the new version of "The Green Hornet" more than a chance.
Between the laugh-heavy script and director Michel Gondry's obvious lack of understanding about how action films should work, this film, despite its potential, is a miserable flop.
"The Green Hornet" started in 1936 as a radio series featuring crusading newspaper publisher Britt Reid who adopts the persona of an up and coming crime boss to bust corruption and rackets in the city. The district attorney and his secretary at the 'paper are the only people who know his dual existence and understand the Hornet is not a criminal.
Reid's hero status was made possible through the inventions of his Japanese valet, Kato, who is the technical brains of the team. Kato invented the gas gun the Hornet uses and made alterations to the Hornet's car, dubbed "The Black Beauty."
"The Green Hornet" show was on radio until 1952. Two movie serials based on the character were produced as well as a comic book series.
The character was revived for a short-lived television show in the 1960s, best known today for co-starring Bruce Lee as Kato.
For you trivia freaks out there, in the original radio series Reid was the Lone Ranger's great-nephew!
I'm a Hornet fan and hoped the new incarnation would supply superhero movie action thrills. Instead what I received from co-screener, executive producer and star Seth Rogen is a story about a typical Rogen loser character attempting to act like a hero.
In films such as "Knocked Up" and "Pineapple Express," Rogen's persona is great. But in "The Green Hornet," one can't feel much sympathy for a spoiled boozing brat who never has an epiphany about his life.
Perhaps this can be viewed as something bold in film fiction: the hero as a moron.
The film has a idiotic fight between the two heroes that seems to go on for hours it really doesn't plus car chase after car chase that doesn't do much for the credibility of the story.
What makes the film even more intolerable is the mis-casting of Cameron Diaz as Lenore Case she looks clearly uncomfortable in many scenes and the lackluster performance of Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou as Kato.
Granted it's a hard role to fill considering the last guy who played it was Lee, but I can assure you there are many action actors in Hong Kong who could have performed the character better.
Granted this film was a troubled production, as the original director associated with this film, Hong Kong superstar Stephen Chow, bowed out, as did Nicolas Cage as the film's lead villain, but the end result is a frat boy superhero movie, certainly not a good combination in my book.
About the only thing the filmmakers did correctly was the car and the extra on the DVD about the development of the Black Beauty was very interesting.
Now here is a film from 1933 that was an absolute delight to watch. Imagine "CSI" set in the era before DNA analysis and you will have this movie.
Director William Dieterle knew how to put together a fast moving and involving who-done-it in the manner Warner Bros. became famous for doing.
George Brent stars as the police detective in charge of a case in which a playboy is found shot to death. There are plenty of suspects from the woman Brent's cop loves to a drug addict to a Persian rug dealer.
Set in the police headquarters, the story is driven by the analysis of the evidence by the crime lab, in particular Edward Ellis as the head of the lab who is waiting for a "good juicy murder." He is elated when the evidence shows the crime wasn't a suicide but was foul play!
Like a lot of Warner Bros. dramatic films of that era, there is plenty of humor in this film somewhat dark humor supplied by Hugh Herbert.
This is exactly the kind of movie I seek out on Turner Classic Movies and the sort of film I would love to buy and those are exactly your two options. This film is available for purchase through the Warner Brothers Archives program, which has hundreds of films, many of which have never appeared on home video before. For instance, the Web site has one of my favorite Fritz Lang films, "While the City Sleeps," as well.
These films are the cinematic equivalent of the Internet's print-on-demand books. The company doesn't make up a DVD of a film until it has an order for it.
Surfing the site with a credit card in hand for me at least is a dangerous proposition as there are dozens of films I want to see. It's too bad these films aren't available to rent through a service such as Netflix.
The next time you hanker for cinematic treasures from the past, log onto www.wbshop.com and click on the Warner Archives button.
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