Seth Rogen, The Green Hornet, and vanity projects
Let me start by saying this will not be a full-on review of The Green Hornet. Rather, this post was inspired by a recent viewing of said movie and my subsequent ruminations on the concept of a vanity project.
For you see The Green Hornet is definitely a vanity project. It exists solely to fulfill some fantasy of someone involved in its production; in this case star, writer, and executive producer Seth Rogen. Sure, The Green Hornet went through several casting and directorial changes before settling on Rogen (and Michel Gondry, whose direction is really the only interesting thing about the movie) but once Rogen was on board, it became all about him. Unfortunately, his lovable, chatty doofus shtick can’t carry a whole action movie like this.
The vanity project movie is not new; it has existed since the dawn of Hollywood and takes many forms. You have vanity films that are made to capitalize on a celebrity at the height of their fame. Vanilla Ice had 1991′s Cool As Ice, by which time he was, frankly, already on the downslope of his rise to fame. Similarly, there was Mariah Carey’s Glitter in 2001 (which the Filthy Critic lauded as “the movie Mariah fans justly deserve.”) Before them, Michael Jackson made Moonwalker in 1988 and its spectacularly bizarre Sega Genesis game (yes, it’s real.)
There are of course other types of vanity projects like John Travolta’s infamously unwatchable Battlefield Earth, based on a sci-fi story by Scientology cult founder L. Ron Hubbard. And let’s not forget all of Kevin Costner’s 90′s output. And Bruce Willis’ Hudson Hawk in 1991. (Which I saw twice in the theater and maintain is actually a pretty fun movie.) These are films whose material was weak, but whose makers believed would yield box office gains based solely on the star’s (dubious) popularity. Granted, that sounds a lot like the aforementioned Vanilla Ice and Mariah Carey vehicles. The difference is subtle. Movies like Glitter and Cool As Ice are created for and around their stars, whereas the Travolta/Costner stuff sought success by attaching a specific star to a low quality script. (Having said this, I maintain that Waterworld, while not great, was not as bad as everyone says.)
There are peripheral arguments to be made that other films fit a kind of one-off definition of a vanity project. I’ve heard it said that Avatar was driven largely by James Cameron‘s ego, and I can find little fault with such a statement. Similarly, pretty much every M. Night Shyamalan movie is a vanity project; unfortunately, as his creativity wanes, so does his drawing power (to the point where theater-goers now laugh when his name appears in a movie trailer.) Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (a/k/a, The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre) is a special case. Here is a movie wherein the audience is subjected to pornographic scenes of torture for two hours, the dialogue is all in an ancient, dead language, and parents were encouraged to bring their children! Any other director pitches such an idea and the studio people call security within 2 minutes.
Why do these movies keep getting made? Are actors’ and directors’ egos so powerful as to get bad films into theaters by sheer force of will? If so, why aren’t these wills used for good instead of evil? I don’t have the answers. Discuss below if you’re so inclined. But I hope we are collectively able to come up with a solution soon, before Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence team up for the vanity-pocalypse…