A curious collision of genre, attitude and comic sensibilities, “The Green Hornet” takes the pulp radio answer to “Batman,” reworks it through the stoner/overgrown adolescent humor of screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg as a star vehicle for Rogen, and then hands it off to director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind”), the off-center auteur of indie whimsy and creative ingenuity. The resulting film (which was also reworked for 3D at the last minute) is part goof, part spoof, part self-aware action spectacle and part child-man buddy comedy: a superhero fantasy for the least-qualified hero to hit the screen (big or small) yet.
In this rewrite of the legend, Rogen’s Britt Reid is the anti-Bruce Wayne, the spoiled, tabloid-headline millionaire scion of a respected publisher who decides to make himself into a masked vigilante after his father is murdered by gangsters and he discovers that the family mechanic Kato (Jay Chou) is also an inventor and a martial arts dynamo. It has all the planning of a kid trying to make a fantasy come true—no training montage here because Britt doesn’t want to put in the sweat equity, he just wants the rush of the game—and the scrappy adolescent antagonism of a vain rich kid jealous that his “sidekick” is the real deal while he tries to buy his way into superhero game. Sort of like Pineapple Express with secret identities, a really, really funky car and Bruce Lee as the wheelman.
What does that leave for this column? How about Michel Gondry’s The Thorn in the Heart (Oscilloscope), an intimate portrait of his Aunt Suzette Gondry, the strong-willed patriarch of the Gondry family, and her thorny relationship with her son Jean-Yves.
The increasingly scruffy cinema of Michel Gondry dives deeper into the junkyard of creativity with Be Kind Rewind, a whimsical comedy about a pair of buddies (Jack Black and Mos Def) who decide to shoot their own scrappy versions of Hollywood films.
Jack Black gets electrified in a guerrilla attack on the local power plant, one of the film’s sequences less like an improv skit than a live-action cartoon, and winds up demagnetizing all the tapes in the relic of video store and second-hand shop. Their stock isn’t all that up-to-date, which no one seems to mind, and they really haven’t figured out that the DVD revolution has made them obsolete.
Gondry’s film lives in the corners of such obsolescence as it embraces a community that has practically fallen out of time. And that sense of community comes alive as a cult underground video community grows around these guerrilla remakes, or “Sweded” versions, as they call their process (unregistered trademark).
Gondry’s script is haphazard, to be sure. One pointed scene, where store owner Danny Glover talks about streamlining his selection according to modern business plans (“Two sections: comedy and action”) and Mos Def’s character bemoans the loss of the character and variety of their selection, rings false considering what we actually see on the shelves. There are none of the silent films or classics that we’re told must go, merely a generic selection of Hollywood releases of the past 15 or so years.
But their zero-budget filmmaking, turning spare parts into costumes and props and making it into a kind of folk art spin on Hollywood gloss, is obviously near and dear to Gondry’s heart. It’s an amateur version of his own preferred style and their fictional flurry of on-the-fly productions seems to have guided his real-life production, at least to some extent. The scenes have a looseness, as if the performers are feeling their way through them and sparring with their co-stars. Which means some of the scenes tend to ramble at times, and Gondry’s camera is given to wandering for no apparent reason. Not too much, but enough to let you know that this isn’t your usual Hollywood film.