Ever since the first “Spiderman” film came out back in 2002, there has been a continuous onslaught of superhero blockbusters that dominate the box office. The genre has only grown in popularity with each passing year, and 2011 alone will see the release of five new superhero flicks. But before Marvel and DC take over the screens in the summer, audiences can start the year with the far less ambitious, yet much more comedic superhero spectacle of “The Green Hornet.”
Slacker-extraordinaire Seth Rogen plays Britt Reid, a wealthy playboy living off the success of his newspaper editor father (Tom Wilkinson) and doing nothing productive with his life. When dad up and dies from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, Britt meets his father’s mechanic and coffee maker Kato (Jay Chou), and the two quickly become friends. Britt soon realizes that Kato’s talents include a technical wizardry that allows him to build almost anything as well as a mastery of martial arts. After Kato saves him from a mugging, he decides they have what it takes to become superheroes and clean up the city’s massive criminal infestation.
Britt and Kato form the Green Hornet pair and build the indestructible, weapon-enhanced “Black Beauty” car to fight as good guys. But in the eyes of the law, they’re seen as criminals as they go around destroying the different gangs and drug rackets. Pretty soon they’ve got both the cops and the criminal overlord Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) on their tail as they fight to save the city from Chudnofsky’s control, posing as rival criminals in order to take down the actual bad guys.
Rogen co-wrote the film with his “Pineapple Express” and “Superbad” writing partner Evan Goldberg, and just like those two films, the story jumps around a bit and could’ve used more focus and tone balancing, but it nails the friendship between the two leads. However, that’s not the most important aspect of the movie, the superhero action-comedy formula is. In that regard, “Green Hornet” delivers a familiar, pretty entertaining experience, even if it is mostly just forgettable popcorn entertainment.
But it’s the chemistry between Rogen and Chou in addition to the bedazzling visual style of imaginative director Michel Gondry that stand out about this superhero romp, not to mention it’s pretty funny, too. Rogen isn’t exactly easy to take seriously as a superhero, so he’s used mostly for the comedy whereas Chou does the majority of the ass-kicking. Think “Rush Hour,” except with a not-annoying Chris Tucker, a younger, subtler Jackie Chan, and more over-the-top action.
People who like Seth Rogen will enjoy him here, but “Green Hornet” isn’t going to change the mind of anyone who doesn’t. Chou on the other hand is a wonderful find from Taiwan, a new face for American audiences that is both coolly confident and a skilled martial artist. The first time he unleashes his fists of fury is one of the coolest scenes of the film, particularly because of how he flies across the screen and dispatches the enemies in sensational slow-mo.
Gondry is known for his unique, vivid visuals in his films, and while they aren’t as wild as usual here, the movie still sports Gondry’s personalized stamp. Every time Kato enters fighting mode, the action looks like a cross between something in “The Matrix” and a hyper-kinetic video game. And in one sequence where Britt figures everything out, Gondry portrays his thoughts one after another like some sort of off-the-wall, quick cut music video.
Yet even with the highlights of Gondry’s inspired direction, there’s a lot about the rest of the film that disappoints. Cameron Diaz plays Britt’s secretary, but her character feels like a throwaway role. Even worse is the fact that Waltz, in his first role after winning an Oscar for his menacing performance in “Inglourious Basterds,” has very little to do as the movie’s villain, being criminally underused.
In addition, somewhere in the middle of the film the story loses focus and wanders around until the lengthy, awesome set piece at the end. The 3-D is also rarely noticeable, another worthless conversion that gives the extra dimension a bad name.
Then again, audiences weren’t exactly clamoring for a movie based on the “Green Hornet” radio serials from the ‘30s and ‘40s, so expectations were never very high for this movie.
January is always a slow month at the cinema; at least “The Green Hornet” is better than the usual fare for this month, providing a moderately fun ride while it lasts.
Two and a Half out of Four Stars