The Green Hornet
Director : Michel Gondry
Screenplay : Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg (based on the radio series created by George W. Trendle)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Seth Rogen (Britt Reid / The Green Hornet), Jay Chou (Kato), Cameron Diaz (Lenore Case), Tom Wilkinson (James Reid), Christoph Waltz (Chudnofsky), David Harbour (Scanlon), Edward James Olmos (Mike Axford), Jamie Harris (Popeye), Chad Coleman (Chili), Edward Furlong (Tupper), Jill Remez (Daily Sentinel Reporter), Joe O’Connor (Daily Sentinel Reporter), Morgan Rusler (Daily Sentinel Reporter), Joshua Chandler Erenberg (Young Britt), Analeigh Tipton (Ana Lee), Taylor Cole (Limo Girl)
The Green Hornet began life as a radio serial in 1936, designed to be a more contemporary companion to The Lone Ranger, which was created at the same station in Detroit. The concept for both shows is similar--a lone hero, with ethnic sidekick in tow, fighting injustice--and it captured the imagination with enough force to persist for decades in multiple formats, including serialized movies, television, and comic books. The Green Hornet is perhaps best known, ironically, for its shortest lived incarnation: a television show that aired only one season from 1966 to 1967, in which the handsome, square-jawed Van Williams’s bland righteousness was regularly upstaged by newcomer Bruce Lee’s martial arts prowess.
It is that unintended role-reversal, with the Asian sidekick (described in the radio series as a “faithful valet” after his Japanese heritage proved problematic following the attack on Pearl Harbor) taking prominence over the white-bread protagonist, that provides the sturdiest foundation for Michel Gondry’s big-screen take on the material, which was penned by Superbad scribes Seth Rogen and Even Goldberg as a semi-parodic, deconstructive jab at superhero clichés that simultaneously wants to revel in the lush glory of the mechanized violence it is supposed to be undercutting. Rogen and Goldberg take a number of liberties with the original storyline to both update it and rework it as wink-wink deconstruction. First on the block is the character of Britt Reid, who in the original radio series was a dashing young newspaper publisher who moonlighted as the masked vigilante The Green Hornet. As played by Rogen, whose slimmer physique does little to mute his boyish overeagerness and ineptitude, Britt is a self-infatuated, immature party hound who lives off the dime of his media mogul father, James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), a cold, driven man whose attention is constantly focused on his flagship Los Angeles newspaper, The Daily Sentinel. When James dies of an allergic reaction to a bee sting, Britt must somehow overcome his arrested development and assume leadership at the paper.
Instead, he cooks up the idea of becoming a masked vigilante after security cameras catch fleeting glimpses of him running away after cutting the head of a graveyard statue of his father. Britt’s idea is to fight crime by tricking the media into thinking his mysterious alter ego is a criminal himself. His partner is Kato (Jay Chou), whose martial arts skills are second only to his feverishly inventive mind and intense work ethic (not to mention incredible patience). Hired by Britt’s father to maintain his fleet of classic cars, Kato has secretly been working as his own Q, designing all means of tricked-out automotive weapons systems that play right into Britt’s overenthusiastic imagination. Anything Britt can dream, Kato can make, and they hit the mean streets in black suits and form-fitting masks to take on Chudnofsky (Inglorious Basterds’s Oscar winner Christoph Waltz), a ruthless crime lord who controls all the criminal activity in Los Angeles.
The incongruity between their means of fighting crime and any sense of reality is played for laughs, as their first mission begins with Britt and Kato realizing that neither one of them has a plan. However, the film’s primary well of humor comes from Rogen’s desperate desire to be a hero, despite the fact that he lacks both the brains and the brawn, both of which Kato has in abundance. Yet, Kato is forever doomed to be known as the “sidekick” or the “chauffeur,” a point that is brought up at virtually every turn, whether it be Chudnofsky recoiling in irritation when Kato shows up instead of The Green Hornet or the numerous conversations that revolve around trying to name Kato’s alter ego, all of which we know will be in vain. When Britt and Kato finally devolve into fisticuffs over who will get to woo Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), Britt’s new secretary (and the film’s overly self-aware sop to a strong female presence), Britt’s childish screaming that he’s “Indy” and Kato is “Short Round” reminds us with uncomfortable force that his self-delusion is just another link in a long chain of casually racist power structures.
Yet, even if you “get” what The Green Hornet is trying to do, it is never terribly enjoyable. It succeeds quite well in calling out some of the most egregious ethnic and gender-related sins of the superhero genre and all its variants, but fails in tying those insights into a coherent package. The Green Hornet never lacks for ambition, but it often falls into its own traps; like The Other Guys, last summer’s Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg action comedy, it becomes too infatuated with the very violent action it is supposed to be parodying, especially in the egregious, digitally enhanced slow motion displays of Kato’s fighting prowess, which are strangely saddled with a first-person perspective that attempts to replicate his lightning-fast thought processes by highlighting different objects and people with a red glow. It makes you wish that Gondry, the eclectic French filmmaker behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2006), was better able to find a coherent voice for the film. As it is, it feels like a lot of good and some not-so-good ideas thrown randomly at a wall, resulting in a mishmash effect that suggests good intentions lost in the chaos.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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