Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz
Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg; Characters by Fran Striker, George W. Trendle
Writing The Green Hornet
The Black Beauty: Rebirth of Cool
Have you ever wondered if Seth Rogen just pulls names out of a hat to decide who he wants to work with next?
Seriously. Who in their right mind would think of teaming up funnyman Rogen with a visual storyteller like director Michel Gondry?
As odd a coupling as this re-imagining of The Green Hornet may seem, the film actually works far better than one might expect despite its occasionally maddening inconsistency, a woefully under-utilized Cameron Diaz and a villain (Christoph Waltz) who's not really that villainous.
Rogen has the lead here as Britt Reid, the goofball son of James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), a newspaper tycoon who heads up Los Angeles's Daily Sentinel. While the elder Reid is a no-nonsense businessman, Britt is all nonsense and more known for ending up in the gossip columns than for preparing to take over his father's business. When his father (you guessed it!) dies from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, Britt is content to leave daily management of the paper to his father's long-time right hand man (Edward James Olmos). Eventually, of course, plans change as Britt takes over the newspaper and discovers a bit of a kinship with his father's mechanic, Kato (Jay Chou). Britt and Kato commit to becoming kinda sorta superheroes pretending to be bad guys so they can actually fight the bad guys from within.
As almost always happens, they inevitably attract the attention of said bad guys led by Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz, a major step down from his electrifying turn in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds).
Cue action. Cue humor. Cue action. Cue over-the-top silliness.
End of movie.
Your enjoyment of The Green Hornet may very well depend upon how much you're willing to suspend belief and surrender to its abundant goofball nature, courtesy of Rogen's usually lovable schlub charm and Gondry's surprisingly straightforward stylings. While Gondry occasionally throws something at the screen that makes us think "That's Gondry!," for the most part this feels like Gondry doing a favor for a friend and directing his film.
In all honesty, I've never disliked a Gondry film and The Green Hornet doesn't change this fact. While the film is by no means a cinematic masterpiece, not even by modest action flick standards, it is a consistently fun, entertaining and breezy film that may serve as a decent alternative for mid-January audiences tired of all the awards season seriousness.
Rogen, who co-wrote the script with his usual collaborator Evan Goldberg, seems to have developed a knack for writing characters that allow him to grow a bit as an actor while never quite leaping into foreign territory and risking the loss of his usual audience. It's no coincidence that the one time Rogen ventured way out in left field, the darkly comical Observe & Report, audiences stayed away.
The film's real surprise is relative Hollywood newcomer Jay Chou, a Taiwanese pop star who may be familiar to arthouse American audiences from his appearance in Curse of the Golden Flower. Chou is the perfect counterpoint to Rogen's overt goofball shtick, playing Kato with tongue so firmly planted in cheek that it may very well be superglued there. While Chou occasionally struggles to the point of distraction with the English language, he's a charismatic and smooth sidekick for Rogen's Britt Reid.
As I was watching The Green Hornet, I kept flashing back to Will Ferrell's bloody awful Land of the Lost effort, a film that tried desperately to capture the quirky charm of its source material and failed miserably. In essence, that's what Gondry attempts here with admittedly mixed results. When The Green Hornet is inspired, it's awesome to behold. When it's not, well, it's not.
Out of fairness to Christoph Waltz, the Rogen-Goldberg script doesn't give him much to do and, sadly, he appears largely uninvested in finding anything particularly about his character. Cameron Diaz? Why is she even here? Rogen and Goldberg, for that matter, can't seem to figure out how to wind the film down and allow the entire affair to dissolve into way over-the-top silliness that will either charm you or irritate you.
The 3-D version of The Green Hornet is a post-production add-on, usually the seal of death. While there are a few moments that may make it worthwhile for hardcore fans, for the most part audiences should be just fine with the less expensive 2-D movie experience. D.P. John Schwartzman doesn't quite serve up the usual Gondry inventiveness, though the "Kato-Vision" scenes are truly impressive.
The haters are likely to be out in full force for The Green Hornet, a film unlikely to please fans of more traditional superhero flicks nor fans of Rogen's usual R-rated potty humor (the film is rated PG-13). Ignore the haters and decide for yourself if The Green Hornet is for you. While the film never quite achieves the levels of supercoolness we've come to expect from both Rogen and Gondry, if you can surrender yourself to its quirk and silliness you may just find yourself smiling as you head on out back to the real world.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic