Movies that are able to effectively blend action and comedy tend to be real crowd pleasers. Large segments of the moviegoing public go to the cinema specifically to escape, and, really, what’s more escapist than laughing and being thrilled at the same time? From The General to Big Trouble in Little China to Shaun of the Dead, the best action comedies tend to become cult favorites that stand the test of time and get re-watched constantly. There’s one action comedy that has a giant cult following I’ve never found an inroad to appreciate though—John Landis’ 1980 hit, The Blues Brothers. It’s not hard to see why many find it memorable. It’s set in an exaggerated version of lower class Chicago that’s easy to romanticize, it gets to ride the coattails of John Belushi’s gone-too-soon legacy, and it features so many legendary musicians that you almost feel like you have to respect it by proxy. Putting all that aside though, the movie is really long and slow, it doesn’t contain many big laughs, and quite frankly I have a hard time finishing it without falling asleep.
One recent action comedy that doesn’t get any respect is 2011’s The Green Hornet, and seeing as its writers, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, released the impressive and seemingly well-liked This is the End over the weekend, it feels like an appropriate time to revisit it and ask why that is. The Green Hornet made a decent amount of coin, and was successful enough on an international level that it can’t really be considered a bomb, but it was so ravaged by critics and moviegoers that it seems people remember it as one anyway. Probably that has something to do with expectations. Seeing as it was directed by Michel Gondry, arthouse fans were likely expecting to be blown away by it visually. And seeing as it was written by Rogen and Goldberg, comedy fans were probably looking to get as many laughs from it as they did Superbad. The thing about The Green Hornet is, despite the fact that it’s not as visually interesting as anything else Gondry has done and it’s not as funny as anything else Rogen and Goldberg have done, it’s still a pretty solid action comedy when you put everything aside and view it on its own.
What do they have in common?
They’re both films that blend action with comedy. Even more than that though, they’re both movies with suit-wearing duos as their protagonists, and they both feature very lengthy car chase scenes that go completely overboard with the property damage they cause. How many other movies can you think of that have extended sequences where cars are driving through buildings? Clearly there was a little bit of homage going on when The Green Hornet got put together.
Why is The Blues Brothers overrated?
Bottom line, there are just too many musical performances in this movie, and they drag things out to the point where sitting down to watch it feels like a real commitment. They’re not even live performances either, they’re just people lip synching and doing dance numbers to studio recordings of songs. That’s not even as interesting as what happens on Glee. I mean, you have to watch the brothers perform two full country songs just to establish that they’re playing a gig at a country bar. Who has time for that? And more importantly, who has over two hours to watch a silly comedy about a blues band trying to save an orphanage? You get two hours and fifteen minutes into this thing and there’s a joke about how long an elevator ride is. How infuriating.
The pacing here is so slow that you’d think you’re watching a deathly serious drama, but the film still gets labeled as a comedy, regardless of how few laughs it contains. Honestly, where are the jokes? The Blues Brothers is perhaps the SNL-launched movie that contains the smallest amount of comedic material this side of Corky Romano. Are we supposed to find it more than mildly amusing that Dan Aykroyd and Belushi drive from place to place in matching outfits that look slightly silly? Is the fact that they keep saying “We’re on a mission from God,” the big joke here, because they’re obviously heathens? Hopefully that’s what everyone remembers this one so fondly for, because whenever it goes for broad laughs, like when the brothers dine in a fancy French restaurant, things devolve into comedy of manners humor that would look more at home in an early 30s silent film than it does in something from the early 80s. It’s almost surprising nobody got into blackface.
Why is The Green Hornet underpraised?
The best thing you can say about The Green Hornet is that it stays light-hearted and fun all the way through to its end. Too many movies that try to mix comedy with action get too wrapped up in the task of telling a fulfilling story that they forget to keep telling jokes while they hit a dramatic climax and make their protagonist experience some sort of growth. Rogen and Goldberg make the ballsy decision of introducing a bumbling hero and maintaining his ineptitude all the way to the end, which pays off by managing to keep you laughing. Rogen’s Hornet and John Chou’s Kato have an easy chemistry that’s hard to dislike too. Most movies like this would mostly be about them chaffing up against each other, but this one jumps right into the fun by having them enjoy each other’s company as soon as they meet. Rogen is even naturally schlubby and funny enough that you don’t really mind that he’s playing a dick. Comedically, The Green Hornet is pretty solid, even if it’s not exceptional.
The other reason it’s more solid than its reputation is that its action is actually satisfying, especially for a movie that’s mostly a comedy. All of the scenes where Kato is using his martial arts skills are actually intricately choreographed, and Gondry shoots them far back enough that you can legitimately appreciate the choreography. For modern action that’s basically a miracle. There’s a sequence where a hit is being put out on the Hornet and word is spreading though the town that artistically uses split screen to delight as well. Though this is definitely not the visually-focused film that you’d probably expect from Gondry, he manages to get an impressive flourish in there every once in a while. The big car chase sequence that links this movie to The Blues Brothers is damned impressive, for instance. The Green Hornet manages to make a car take an elevator to different floors in an office building and not have it play as being entirely over the top. That’s got to be viewed as something of an accomplishment. Maybe even a bigger accomplishment than casting Seth Rogen as an action hero and hot having it become infamous for being an all-time misfire.
Evening the odds.
The Green Hornet may be a film whose reputation improves with age, but it will certainly never be anywhere near as beloved as The Blues Brothers—that much is clear. But the criticism that can be lobbied at either movie that few people would be likely to try to argue is that they’re both too long. Action comedies shouldn’t linger. They should get their gags and their explosions in and then get out before the audience has much time to think about what they’ve seen. That’s how you keep people happy.
At 119 minutes, The Green Hornet undercuts The Blues Brothers’ 148 minute run time by quite a bit. So how about the next time you’re going to sit down to watch The Blues Brothers for the hundredth time, you throw in The Green Hornet and give it a second chance with fresh eyes instead? The worst that could happen is that you save an extra half hour.