by Mel Valentin
Everyone who doubted actor-comedian-writer Seth Rogen as the Green Hornet, a wisecracking masked vigilante (first introduced in the mid-1930s on radio) will find more than enough proof in the first, probably last, big-screen appearance of said second- or third-tier superhero character. Given, however, the dearth of quality entertainment during one of, if not the, coldest, sunlight-deprived months of the year (assuming you live in the northern climes of North America), "The Green Hornet" rises above the meager, mediocre competition, with only "The Dilemma" opening the same weekend (not counting December holdovers like "True Grit" or, God forbid, "Little Fockers" or last weekend’s underperformers, "Season of the Witch" and "Country Strong"). That’s obviously not saying much (if anything), but given that moviegoers will have to wait until March at the earliest for anything resembling a summer blockbuster (e.g., "Battle: Los Angeles," "Sucker Punch"). "The Green Hornet" will have to do at the multiplex this weekend.The Green Hornet flips the well-worn superhero-sidekick dynamic on its side, Big Trouble in Little China-style. Britt Reid (Rogen) might be the once-and-future Green Hornet, but here he’s just a dissolute, egotistical, shallow playboy. He parties by day and by night, refusing to learn the publishing ropes (the source of his wealth and income) from his newspaper publisher father, James (Tom Wilkinson), or his father’s managing editor in the newsroom, Max Axford (Edward James Olmos). After his father’s untimely death, Britt reacts the way he always those: by going on a bender. Kato (Jay Chou), his father’s mechanic, helps Reid clean up his act personally and publicly (i.e., running the family’s L.A.-based newspaper, The Daily Sentinel). Kato, a martial arts expert and genius-level weapons designer, outfits one of Reid’s cars, a mint, mid-sixties Imperial Crown dubbed “Black Beauty,” as their all-purpose transport vehicle when Reid decides he wants to become a superhero and take on the city’s boss of bosses, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz).
"A potato-in-the-tailpipe misfire of semi-massive proportions."
Although the Green Hornet nominally leads the duo’s nightly crimefighting escapades, his personal shortcomings, including his lack of martial arts training and lack of intellectual curiosity, results in Kato stepping in, saving the Green Hornet’s rear from the usual group of faceless thugs and henchmen. It’s Kato who does the most in advancing their investigation into the death of Britt’s father. Each step gets them dangerously closer to Chudnofsky, giving director Michel Gondry (Be Kind Rewind, The Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) the opportunity to stage various martial arts fights against generic, multi-ethnic thugs, car chases and crashes, explosions of many and various types, and all-around destructive mayhem (the better to use up The Green Hornet’s $100 million-plus budget), most of it, with the exception of the underused “Kato-Vision” (Kato hitting or kicking opponents results in a staggered, telescopic effect) perfunctorily and unimaginatively. It’s certainly a disappointment, one, unfortunately, among many, to be found in The Green Hornet.
When it comes to first-, second-, or third-tier superheroes on film, the first entry in a usually hoped-for franchise has to cover the superhero’s origin story and that’s exactly what moviegoers get with The Green Hornet, albeit with an overabundance of PG-13-rated profanity, tone (e.g., straight, comedic, campy), an unlikeable protagonist-hero (the better for his redemptive arc to make an emotional or dramatic impact with audiences), the introduction of a sidekick, weapons, transportation, and, of course, the central villain. Maybe more than any genre, superhero films depend on strong, memorable villains, the superhero’s equal or better. Unfortunately, The Green Hornet’s villain, Chudnofsky, is anything but memorable. He’s drab, dreary, dull, a misuse of Waltz’s talents, but also one among many story-related flaws in The Green Hornet that awkwardly mixes Rogen’s low-brow humor with Chou’s straight-faced, super-serious take on Kato.
Kato’s meant to be the straight man to Reid’s clueless fumbler, but, as already mentioned, he’s also the real-deal superhero in The Green Hornet. Reid just provides the resources and the cover for Kato to do his thing, fighting thugs in “Kato Vision,” or building mini-weapons of mass destruction for Black Beauty. It’s, at minimum, an intentional twist on the superhero formula, but Kato’s status in The Green Hornet is also meant as a direct homage to Bruce Lee’s performance of Kato in the mid-1960s series. In Asian countries, the “Green Hornet” TV series was cleverly rebranded as the “Kato Show” for Lee’s show-stealing appearances. As additional evidence, Gondry and Rogen include a hand-drawn illustration of Bruce Lee inside a notebook the current Kato carries around with him.If "The Green Hornet" is meant primarily as a showcase both for the title character and Rogen’s acting chops, comedic or otherwise, it doesn’t really succeed. As depicted, Reid’s nothing but a spoiled, obnoxious, entitled twenty-something, barely changing by the film’s climactic moment. Rogen rarely attempts to stray outside his comfort zone, playing Reid like every other character (e.g., same blank stares, same guffaws, and same random explosions of expletives). Combined with the absence of Gondry’s distinct aesthetic style, the semi-obligatory romantic interest (Cameron Diaz as Lenore Case, Reid’s secretary and researcher), and "The Green Hornet" feels like a missed opportunity for everyone involved (because it is).
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originally posted: 01/14/11 03:15:49