The Green Hornet
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Rated PG13/111 min.
In 2007 I attended Comic Con, where one of the panelists was Seth Rogen. He was ostensibly promoting Superbad but was clearly excited about something else: The Green Hornet, a superhero remake he was writing with frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg. Rogen has a laugh like a bear with a stoner cough and is best known for playing lovable goofballs in films like Knocked Up and The 40-Year Old Virgin, but he was dead serious about this movie. Four years later we have the finished product which is one part spoof, one part faithful adaptation—and mostly quite good.
Rogen—who seriously trimmed down for the part—plays Britt Reid, a self-destructive rich kid who inherits his father’s newspaper business. He’s done nothing with his life, which has been a series of well-publicized drunken parties and encounters with women whose names escape him. Reid meets his father’s personal assistant, Kato (Jay Chou, a Taiwanese pop singer in his English-language debut), who is a brilliant inventor and martial arts master, and they decide to become masked vigilantes.
Rogen showed much more range as an actor in the underappreciated Funny People, but his approach to this character is novel: Reid isn’t a Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark, where confidence, intellect and pathos play into becoming a crime fighter. Instead, this is what would happen if a talentless, overly cocky party animal became a superhero as a large-scale prank and stole all the glory from his far more talented side-kick. This unique and amusing approach makes for a character-driven comedy that mines laughs from unexpected places.
Chou is a charismatic Kato and his highly stylized fight sequences (complete with “Kato-vision” and way-cool CGI assistance), are a major highlight. So is Cameron Diaz, doing a lot with the brainy secretary role, and the impressive, exciting action set pieces.
The letdown is Christoph Waltz’s silly villain role, which demonstrates how this brilliant recent Oscar-winner is left stranded when the dialogue isn’t Tarantino-caliber. One thing the film does have in common with Tarantino: a lot of violence and profanity. It’s rated PG13, but it’s a bad bet for younger kids.
The ace up the film’s sleeve was getting the visually innovative Michel Gondry to direct. Gondry helmed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind. Here he crafts an offbeat action/comedy that is mildly stylish most of the way (with certain moments slowed down and sped up for effect) then lets loose with a stunning fantasy sequence near the very end.
It’s not Iron Man, but it has its own winning mix of risky choices, a surprising ensemble of actors, a postmodern take on a comic book movie and breathtaking imagery.
Where else can you see a car driven into a working elevator, two masked superheroes rocking out to Coolio, and Cameron Diaz in 3-D?