The Green Hornet (Columbia Pictures, PG-13)

The Michel Gondry-directed film plays more like a self-conscious tweaking of the superhero formula, taking the “What would really happen if an everyday dude tried to fight crime in a costume?” theme from last year’s Kick Ass and blending it with a Lethal Weapon-style buddy action comedy.

 

 

 

Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) leads a charmed life as the hard-partying son of James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), the media mogul at the head of the newspaper The Daily Sentinel. When the elder Reid dies under slightly implausible circumstances, Britt struggles to reconcile his dislike of his permanently dour-faced father with the glowing eulogies and memorial statues that have been heaped upon him after death. That’s when he meets Kato (Jay Chou), a similarly disgruntled former employee of his father’s who worked on Reid’s cars and served his coffee. The pair head out under cover of night to deface Britt’s father’s statue, but when they spot some muggers, they leap to the rescue and Kato reveals his secret skills as a martial artist. After seeing Kato in action, Britt hatches a plan to give the two a chance to live up to their so far untapped potential: they’ll put on masks and become crimefighters, but they’ll do so by pretending to be criminals trying to beat the bad guys at their own game. Kato quickly whips up costumes and an armed-to-the-teeth car named the Black Beauty, and Britt starts stealing ideas for the Green Hornet’s next moves from his sexy new secretary Lenore (Cameron Diaz), but will this bumbling pair get their act together before they run afoul of Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), the Russian gangster who has a hand in every crime in the city?
 
Coming amidst a decade-plus wave of superhero films, it’s easy to think of The Green Hornet as a Johnny-come-lately to the genre, so I feel obligated to point out that the Green Hornet character actually predates superheroes. Created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker (the team behind another famous masked avenger, the Lone Ranger), the Green Hornet first appeared in a 1930s radio serial, one of the many classic pulp heroes (such as Doc Savage and the Shadow) to pave the way for superheroes like Superman and Batman that arrived just a few years later. The character is perhaps most famously remembered for his eponymous, short-lived 1960s TV series, which starred Van Williams as the Green Hornet but is remembered better for introducing America to Bruce Lee as Kato.
 
Though the character predates the superhero craze, the Michel Gondry-directed Green Hornet film plays more like a self-conscious tweaking of the formula, taking the “What would really happen if an everyday dude tried to fight crime in a costume?” theme from last year’s Kick Ass and blending it with a Lethal Weapon-style buddy action comedy. It’s the buddy action comedy half of the film that largely succeeds, thanks to the rapid-fire script from Rogen and his frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express). Here, the laughs come from the friendly bickering between Rogen and Chou (who have fantastic chemistry and a great comic timing between them), not from groan-worthy action movie quips. It helps that the film throws the hero-sidekick dichotomy on its ear by making Kato the able bad-ass and the Hornet the bumbling accidental hero, though the way Britt responds to Kato’s help can often seem unnecessarily dickish. The action scenes are wonderfully captured, especially Kato’s kung fu scenes, where Gondry uses a twist on Zak Snyder’s super slo-mo style by jumping inside Kato’s mind’s eye to zoom in on every attacker and weapon in the fight, then popping out to let us watch him systematically disarm every threat. It’s a neat effect.
 
The supporting actors are generally solid as well. Waltz is a gas as the paranoid, image-obsessed gangster Chudnofsky, a man whose cartoonish accent and ominous theme music belie a desperate need to be seen as threatening by his fellow criminals. Wilkinson does his usual effortless job as an authoritarian father in his brief role, and Edward James Olmos is his usual gruff self as The Daily Sentinel’s put-upon editor Mike Axford. The only weak link, really, is Cameron Diaz as Lenore, not for her performance so much as for the ludicrousness of her character, a temp secretary who is somehow an expert in both journalism and criminology. I suppose that’s no more a stretch than a mechanic/chauffeur being a weapons/martial arts expert, but in Lenore’s case it just seems like her every action is done for nothing more than plot convenience.
 
Where the film falls apart a bit, though, is when it strives too hard for realism. The under-rated Kick Ass took similar material in a much, much darker direction, and while Rogen and Gondry try to keep things light, it strains credibility when the Hornet and Kato go from a bloodless fistfight with muggers to shoving cop cars into horrible accidents and actively mowing down drug dealers and other petty criminals, shooting people in the head and blowing up buildings without a single “Whoa, we just crossed a line” moment. The violence, while not graphic, is frequently shocking just because it seems so out-of-place within the context of the movie and its characters.
 
The press screening for The Green Hornet was in 3D, but I would suggest you save your money and see the film in 2D. The 3D is used pretty sparingly and adds little to the action sequences, other than a few bits of shrapnel flying toward your face here and there. The best use of the technology comes in the closing credit sequence, although there is one notably cool scene where the screen continually splits into smaller and smaller “panels” and the depth of field varies for every panel on the screen. In my mind, though, neither of those is worth the extra cost of a 3D screening.
 
Despite the slight problems in maintaining a consistent tone, The Green Hornet is an awful lot of fun. With plenty of laughs, beautifully choreographed fight sequences, and epic car chases, this is the kind of cinematic comfort food that’s well suited to fill a January night. | Jason Green
 

 

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