Review: The Green Hornet

When Seth Rogen got his paws on rights to turn the masked crimefighter radio and TV series “The Green Hornet” into a movie, we figured to have it pegged. Rogen would deliver an action comedy “Green Hornet” universe stuffed with his brand of immature moron humor. The only question was whether that combination would work or make Rogen look like an actual idiot.

While we think of Rogen and pal Evan Goldberg as co-scriptors of modern bromance and foul-mouthed humor, their 2008 film “Pineapple Express” was an action film, albeit an outlandishly hard-R version centered around smoking weed. “The Green Hornet,” like that film, succeeds at escapist action, remaining exciting and fun enough that the humor offers a nice balance and a reminder that typical superhero movie intensity and catharsis are best sought elsewhere.

Rogen stars as Britt Reid, partyboy son of a major newspaper owner in Los Angeles. When his father dies, Britt reflects on their tense relationship, which stirs him to actually doing something with his life. After striking up a friendship with his father’s mechanic/coffeemaker, a chinese genius named Kato (Jay Chou), a stress-relief venture to decapitate his father’s statue turns into a crimefighting epiphany. Using the newspaper to get out the word, they create The Green Hornet, a hero who poses as a villain to get close to and take down the criminals of the city.

Goldberg, Rogen and director Michel Gondry’s (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) real handiwork is doing an especially good job of masking or perhaps simply distracting the audience from the hollowness of this plot. That’s not intended to be a backhanded compliment: with the exception of a misleading semi-serious beginning, it’s clear that the film’s quality threshold tops off at “entertaining” and the movie does us a favor in not serving up anything so pathetic as to remind us of its faults.

The subplots and side antics keep the attention off the prototypical story. Goldberg and Rogen have keyed in on the relationship between Britt and Kato, flipping it into — not surprisingly — a superhero bromance. Although the conflicts builds itself on Britt’s unlikable childish arrogance and ignorance as to Kato’s superior skill, the subplot provides for a strong back-and-forth for comedic purposes and distracts from the half-baked pieces of the film: Britt’s relationship with his dad, suspect character motivation across the board and Cameron Diaz being in the movie period.

Basically, the movie does enough for us to care about Britt and Kato. Diaz, for example, while useless to the rest of the film as Britt’s secretary at the paper, serves as a device for mounting tension between our two heroes and to comic results. With that humor, the film builds the entertaining diversion that it needs.

The humor has its rough moments, namely in the action-oriented scenes when Rogen chooses to push the quantity of jokes instead of letting us take in the car chase or gun fight. Otherwise, Chou offers an excellent balance for Rogen’s bumbling idiot act. Christoph Waltz as Chudnofsky, the crime lord with some serious insecurities, holds the honor of being the only interesting/amusing supporting character. Taking a page from his experience in “Inglourious Basterds,” the actor manages to play the role without going over the top or taking the part too seriously either.

As an action film, “The Green Hornet” surprises the most. Gondry manages to effectively use slow motion rather than do it for the sake of doing it, for example. Yet Goldberg and Rogen deserve the most credit, as they’ve drafted up some unique sequences, one being the final showdown inside the newspaper building. Almost all action films of this caliber have predictable outcomes, but “Hornet” keeps the “how” up in the air with that creativity. The whole “Kato kicks ass yet Britt is incompetent” dynamic also provides some amusement.

Simply, fans of mindless action and modern comedy ought to find it hard to dwell for too long on the flaws of “The Green Hornet.” I might have to toss this one under the guilty pleasure pile, but kudos to Rogen and co. for never letting the film drift into awful or “so cliché it hurts” territory. One bad move and the gleeful distraction would’ve been lost. Instead, we get a couple solid lead characters, crafty action and several decent jokes.

3.5/5 Stars

The Green Hornet
Directed by Michel Gondry
Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, George W. Trendle (radio series)
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz

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