With Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Tom Wilkinson. Directed by Michel Gondry. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content. 119 minutes.
THE GREEN HORNET is one of those annoying movies that has enough good stuff in it that it can’t be dismissed out-of-hand, but enough deficits that one is hard-pressed to praise it. It’s a disposable mid-winter movie that arrives when Hollywood has Oscar on its mind, and just wants the new movies to make money in the mean time.
Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is an irresponsible playboy whose father (Tom Wilkinson) is the tough-minded publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel. When his father is killed in a freak accident, Britt takes over but isn’t really up for the job. Instead, through a series of mishaps, he finds himself as a costumed crime-fighter, complete with an Asian sidekick named Kato (Jay Chou). If it seems retro, it’s because the Green Hornet is a character born of old radio dramas, movie serials and TV shows (Bruce Lee was Kato in the short-lived TV series) and there’s really no reason to be doing this movie now.
However, Rogen, who collaborated on the script, and arty director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind”) think they have found a fresh spin to put on it. In the manner of a car whose engine revs, sputters out, and then turns over again, this “Green Hornet” plows along, eventually reaching its destination. At 119 minutes, it’s way too long to sustain the slight material but it does get there. Even Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar as the embodiment of evil in “Inglourious Basterds,” seems at a loss here as the villainous Chudnofsky.
The chief joke is that Reid, far from being a hero, is in way over his head, and that Kato has no intention of being a mere sidekick when it’s clear he’s smarter than his boss and a better fighter to boot. There are various gags to demonstrate this from Reid knocking himself out with a gas gun to a fight with Kato that brings to mind the epic comic battles between Inspector Clouseau and his Asian sidekick in the “Pink Panther” movies. Some of the sequences are amusing and a chase that involves a car crashing into a building and taking the elevator is inventive.
On the other hand there’s the waste of actors like Wilkinson, Waltz, Cameron Diaz, and Edward James Olmos. Diaz, for example, is hired as Reid’s secretary and proves to be far more savvy about fighting crime in Los Angeles that either of the two heroes. That they end up fighting over her when she has no interest in either of them is one of the many jokes that falls flat. By turning Reid into a slovenly playboy, a slimmed-down Rogen manages to pull off the part, but it’s fair to ask to what effect? It doesn’t offer us any insight into the superhero mythology the way, say, “Batman Begins” did. Instead it’s a contrivance as if to say, “See? Look how we’re doing it differently!”
“The Green Hornet” occasionally comes to life, and does so enough times that it can’t quite be called a disappointment. On the other hand, if Rogen thought this was the birth of a new franchise, he can only hope that the low standards that allow a third “Transformers” movie to come out this summer work to his advantage as well.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.