2011, the year of the cinematic superhero, has begun with the release of The Green Hornet. Having appeared in radio, television, and movie serials since the 1930s, this marks the feature film debut of the newspaper editor turned crime fighter.
As a fan of the character and his roots in radio in television, I had had some doubts about how this character would be adapted to the big screen, and how Seth Rogen, a man with a history of goofy comedies under his belt, would portray the role of white collar crime fighter, Britt Reid. While it is not an achievement of cinematic gold, for a fan, the final product is an enjoyable popcorn movie, but still falls short in some respects.
Similar to the first Iron Man, the audience is introduced to an irresponsible protagonist with nothing but money, parties, and women on the brain. You can guess where the story will go from there. A life changing event prompts the main character to reexamine his life and then use the resources at his disposal to right society’s wrongs. In this case, those resources include his recently deceased father’s wealth, and the combat and engineering skills of Asian mechanic, Kato, played by Taiwanese pop star, Jay Chou. Thankfully, the decision to become a crime fighter does not come as abruptly as I had feared. There is a small bit of setup to establish that Britt Reid, while content with his freewheeling lifestyle, does have a spark of nobility in his heart. The film also maintains the premise from the original radio show, where The Green Hornet and Kato are believed to be outlaws, allowing them the opportunity to infiltrate the criminal underground while, at the same time, taking it down. However, even though Britt Reid embarks on a quest for justice, Seth Rogen has trouble shedding the goofy, loudmouth qualities that have come to exemplify his film career, making the character obnoxious and unlikeable at times. Not the kind of qualities you expect to be rooting for in the hero.
The film suffers the most as a result of the script by Rogen and his long-time collaborator, Evan Goldberg. The characters are poorly-developed and the dialogue, while seemingly quick and witty, comes off as grating and repetitive at times. The portrayal of Britt as an irresponsible party animal, much to the disappointment of his father, the city’s crusading newspaper editor, appears to take some points from Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet comic that hit shelves last year. While that story followed Britt Reid Jr., the son of the original Green Hornet, the character similarities are noticeable. In fact, the script probably could have benefitted from some of Smith’s writing talents.
Another glaring blemish on the film is the story’s villain, Chudnofsky, played by Oscar winner, Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds). His talents are completely wasted on a two-dimensional character that could’ve been phoned in by anyone looking to collect a paycheck. No wonder Nicolas Cage had been the original choice… Even Cameron Diaz has little to no impact on the film. Her character of Lenore Case does next to nothing and, in my opinion, is only there as eye candy.
However, while the writing and the characters are lacking, the style of director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) gives certain moments a memorable quality. The manipulation of action speed and a technique that I’m sure will come to be known as “Kato-Time”, will make several of the film’s action sequences the most talked about part.
Anyone who is a fan of any incarnation of The Green Hornet will be pleased to spot several references and acknowledgments to the character’s history. For example, on their first night out, Britt and Kato sport attire similar to that worn by their characters in promotional images and comic books from the time of the radio program. Also, their tricked-out vehicle, The Black Beauty, is the same make and model as the car from the 1960s television series, a 1966 Chrysler Imperial Crown sedan, and features several of the familiar armaments, such as rockets hidden under the headlights. The film is also populated with characters from the radio and television shows, such as secretary Lenore Case (Diaz), Daily Sentinel reporter Mike Axford (Edward James Olmos), and District Attorney Frank Scanlon (David Harbour). In Kato’s sketch book, there is an entire page full of pencil drawings of martial arts legend, Bruce Lee, who portrayed Kato in the television series. And finally, the original Green Hornet theme, based on Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”, arranged by Billy May, and featuring trumpet player, Al Hirt, can be heard at one point in the film. Even though the overall writing is lacking, the filmmakers definitely did their homework.
Overall, the film is worth a viewing if you’re looking for a fun romp and not expecting much substance. If you’re a Seth Rogen fan, it’ll be even more enjoyable. If you’re a Green Hornet fan, see it for the car and ignore the rest.
The Green Hornet is in theaters now.