REVIEW: The Green Hornet [2011]

“Don’t thank him. He did nothing.”

Don’t be surprised when you find that the new incarnation of The Green Hornet has taken a very different path from its predecessors. The trailer should address this issue, but the simple fact Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are the duo tackling the escapades of George W. Trendle’s characters will if not. The two had great success with their semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale of high school angst in Superbad and took a well-orchestrated shot at making action funny with Pineapple Express. It’s not hard to see the natural evolution into their newest endeavor, bringing a unique brand of random, erratic comedy, (a Ganstas’ Paradise car ride sing-along on vinyl anyone?), to the superhero genre. This eclectic trio of work uses different thematic backbones, but always ends up containing the wacky humor Rogen is known for, infusing one-liners, obnoxious behavior, and off-the-wall supporting players. And while the law of diminishing returns is in effect from film to film, this one has enough zany laughs to sustain it as a fun, popcorn vehicle to combat the drab winter of January, so long as you let it.

I had the lowest of expectations going in and am not ignorant to the fact this could have helped in my enjoyment. One of my most anticipated films of 2010, when it was originally scheduled to release, I was excited to see Rogen branch out while still staying the same, playing his usual brand of imbecilic partier unaware of the definition to ‘consequences’. Mix martial arts, pop culture humor, and one of the best auteurs around in Michel Gondry as the director and the thing couldn’t fail. But then came the rumors—trouble finding a consistent tone, poor test scores, a lazy attempt at cashing in on 3D conversion, (thankfully my screening did not utilize the extra dimension), pushing its release, and, ultimately, the dreaded premiere date residing in January, a month notorious as a studio dump haven of problem children and failures. Knowing next to nothing about the original radio show or the television program that made Bruce Lee a household name in America, I went in simply hoping for a few laughs and some Gondry visual splendor. I ended up with only sparse visual artistry amongst the kinetic automobile destruction, but also a ton of laughs and a goofy tale of half-assed vigilantism.

Courtesy of a quick researching jaunt, it appears that past versions of the masked Britt Reid and Kato merely portrayed a newspaper mogul looking to clean up the streets by joining the bad guys at night, becoming an underworld leader to eradicate it. What better way to prevent crime than removing all those in power, replacing them with a fictitious entity whose only illegal doings are at the detriment to those criminals? Well, Rogen and Goldberg kept the Good Samaritan through bad deeds intact while molding everything else to what they know. By making James Reid (Tom Wilkinson) a bit of a jerk and loathsome to a young son who turns a lack of fatherly love into a life of drinking and debauchery, we are given a concise origin story to the drive for gratitude and never-back-down attitude of the lead’s playboy. Daddy issues being trite and over-used aside, the motivation of a screw-up to even consider becoming a superhero is necessary, and the fact the father was also ungrateful to his mechanic/inventor Kato allows the two lost men to find one another and become quite the team. This isn’t Batman and Robin, though; it’s more like Robin kicking ass while his beneficiary tries to not get them both killed.

The screenwriters’ past scripts had close-knit couplings of friends with attitude clashes—Cera and Hill; Rogen and FrancoThe Green Hornet only works if you believe Reid and Kato are best friends while completely at each other’s throats. Rogen had the ability to re-write a newspaper editor with a decent set of hand-to-hand skills from the 1966 “Green Hornet” into the fast-talking, dimwitted, brash loudmouth he does so well, in turn making Kato more powerful as the only one capable of brute force. Jay Chou comes out of nowhere to fill Lee’s shoes with precision kung fu skills, (Kato: “I’m from Shanghai.” Britt: “Cool, I love Japan.”), and a wonderful feel for comedic timing, using his tenuous hold on English to benefit the jokes, endearing him as the underappreciated superstar. He may possibly be the more arrogant of the two—and deservedly so—but it comes across subtly in words so you feel bad for him when juxtaposed against Rogen’s visible ego. The dynamic between them carries the film; picking up where one might assume Gondry could takeover with aesthetics. However, besides the first fight sequence calling to mind one of his music videos and a cool eight-frame split screen utilizing a neat seamless camera trick, the director’s stamp is pretty much invisible.

As for the other actors, Cameron Diaz should be applauded for allowing a joke that blatantly mocks the fact she looks twenty years older than she is; Edward James Olmos is admittedly wasted as a plot device; David Harbour does well as the smarmy DA Scanlon, a character that takes an interesting turn from the TV show if what I’ve read is true; and Christoph Waltz is over-the-top subtle to perfection, if that makes any sense. Playing the main villain Chudnofsky, he seems to be losing his mind more as every second passes, taking ridicule from strangers and underlings in stride before busting out a double-barreled handgun, blowing people away without remorse. You expect him to be crazy and off-the-wall but he never loses his composure with elastic, expressive movements. His cold-blooded nature comes in short, direct spurts instead. Couple him with an uncredited cameo of pure hysterics by a Rogen BFF in the opening scene and you get the perfect set-up to the film’s tone. The back and forth is hilarious—perhaps partially improvised—and shows the audience the kind of hyper reality the Green Hornet and his acquaintances reside. It tells you to accept the stupid wit, embrace the increasingly crazy, overlong action sequences, and let implausibility reign supreme.

The Green Hornet 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Seth Rogen (left) and Jay Chou star in Columbia Pictures’ action film THE GREEN HORNET. Photo By: Jaimie Trueblood
[2] Christoph Waltz stars in Columbia Pictures’ action film THE GREEN HORNET. Photo By: Jaimie Trueblood
[3] Jay Chou stars as Kato and Seth Rogen stars as Britt Reid in Columbia Pictures’ The Green Hornet (2011)

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