Film Review: The Green Hornet

Seth Rogen brings pulp hero to life

Outside of America, the Green Hornet is not as familiar a figure as other masked heroes such as the Lone Ranger who, like the Hornet, also began life on radio in the 1930s.  Yet, the Hornet has since cropped up in a variety of media, from movie serials to comic books and even a short-lived 1960s TV show. This latter manifestation gave a young Bruce Lee one of his first acting roles in the West as the sidekick Kato.

Whether the new big screen version of ‘The Green Hornet’ will win him a fresh legion of fans is debatable.  Several of the canonical elements of the crime-fighter’s story are present and correct in Michel Gondry’s film but the spirit behind them has changed. This version of the tale is more pastiche than homage, mainly due to the presence of comic actor Seth Rogen as both co-writer and leading man.

Rogen plays Britt Reid, the son of a wealthy and overbearing newspaper publisher (Tom Wilkinson) who cannot abide his son’s slapdash attitude to life. For Reid, existence is just one long paaarrtyy, full of fast cars, obliging women and endless alcohol.  This is all financed by daddy’s money but when Reid Senior dies suddenly; his son is left to face up to the thing he fears most: responsibility.  Britt not only inherits his father’s newspaper, ‘The Daily Sentinel’, but also the mansion, the money and the manservant, Kato (Jay Chou). Reid junior has little interest in the newspaper business but Kato does excite him, thanks to his incredible kung fu and gadget building skills.

Chief among these elaborate boy’s toys is ‘The Black Beauty’, a stunning Chrysler car with built – in rocket launchers and an impenetrable exterior.  When Reid and Kato take the vehicle for a spin they unwittingly foil a mugging, giving Reid ambitions way out of his league. Taking on the mantle of The Green Hornet, he decides to launch his own half-baked war on crime with Kato by his side and the ‘Daily Sentinel’ as his organ of publicity. Pretty soon Reid is out of his depth, especially once he crosses chief baddie Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz.)

‘The Green Hornet’ had the potential to be a nicely gothic, super cool action picture along the lines of the Batman franchise. Sadly, those behind the film have opted to take the sillier, spoof route, as if they feel that today’s cynical post-modern audience would not be able to handle the Hornet’s mythology any other way. A similar approach was taken with the movie versions of ‘Dragnet’ and ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and they were, on the whole, rubbish.  What the makers of ‘The Green Hornet’ seem to have overlooked is the fact that a really good fantasy story comes with its own internal logic, rendering its characters and their situation believable enough to drag the audience along for the ride.

There is little logic in the ‘The Green Hornet’ and precious motivation behind its central character. For this version of Britt Reid, donning his disguise is nothing more than an ego-trip, a huge game lacking in altruistic values. It’s hard to sympathise with a central character that is arrogant, spoilt and childish.  Normally, our ‘hero’ would have learnt his lesson by the end of the film but I am not even sure that is true in this case.

Rather than imbue Reid with any humility, the miscast Rogen seizes the chance to employ his overgrown schoolboy shtick so that Reid is more stupid-hero than superhero.  The running joke is that Kato does all the hard work while the Hornet bumbles and blunders around. Admittedly, some of Rogen’s gags are pretty funny but it is not long before fatigue sets in.

Jay Chou gives the best performance in the film, even if Gondry chooses to relay his early kung fu fights in slow motion, seemingly unaware that this form of combat depends on speed as well as skill.  Meanwhile, Christoph Waltz hams it up as the villain and Cameron Diaz is wasted as crime analyst turned secretary, Lenore Case.

Stylistically, Michel Gondry’s films are always interesting but I am not sure that he is cut out for this genre.  An age goes by before there is any real action whilst thrills and suspense are notably absent. There are a few little musical interludes, harking back to the director’s pop video roots, and one wonderful 3D moment. Yes, of course, this film is in 3D and naturally the flying rockets and bullets are given the lion’s share of the technique. But then Gondry employs a split-screen sequence, in which, thanks to the extra dimension, each part of the image is presented at a different depth. Gimmicky perhaps, but I loved it.

This film is not all bad. It picks up in the last half hour and the climax is spectacular stuff involving the wholesale destruction of the Sentinel’s office building.  This part is a lot of fun and a taste of what ‘The Green Hornet’ could have been. From a design angle, the technology employed by our heroes, particularly the car is great. Near the end of the film, Britt Reid informs Kato that, “Everything we’ve done up to now has been total crap.”  A little harsh maybe; I would settle for ‘hugely disappointing.’

Director: Michael Gondry
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Edward Furlong, Edward James Olmos, Emily Hahn, Jay Chou, Seth Rogen, Tom Wilkinson
Runtime: 119 mins
Cert: 12A

About Alan Diment

Is a freelance writer and film critic. A total film buff who lives and breathes movies.

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