The Green Hornet

It’s better than herpes

The original Green Hornet TV series was notable because unlike the campy Batman show, it was played straight.  It was the story of two silly urban heroes in masks, but this was serious business to them.

The Rogen/Goldberg version isn’t quite as B&W as far as its narrative lens.  The film opens with Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) being scolded by his totalitarian father (Tom Wilkinson) in one of those “every child has a hundred moments like this, but for this character it was so profound that it will stick with him for the rest of his life and, more importantly, catalyze the movement of this entire film” scenes.  Ten years later, Reid decides, upon his father’s death, that he will abandon his frivolous lifestyle and team up with his father’s former mechanic, Kato (Jay Chou, in the role that popularized Bruce Lee with American audiences), and together they will fight crime by pretending to be “bad guys.”  The duo make this decision after desecrating a statue of Reid’s deceased dad.  This setup switches the mood of the film about three times: the beginning is funny (ish) and lighthearted, with Rogen popping one-liners and goofing off.  Then Wilkinson abruptly dies and we hear Johnny Cash’s “I Hung My Head,” one of the saddest songs ever performed, as a hundred somber folks attend the funeral.  Immediately after this, Rogen and Chou destroy the statue, resting its head (the head of Reid’s father) on the couch next to them as they drink beer and babble.  In any other film, this could be a type of dark humor, but here, it’s mean-spirited and confusing.

The film picks up, however.  Insecure villain Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) assumes control of all crime in Los Angeles by killing James Franco and walking slowly away from the explosion without flinching.  As the Green Hornet and Kato gain infamy in the city, Chudnofsky becomes jealous, and we have an urban war on our hands.  Cameron Diaz also shows up as Lenore Case, Reid’s new secretary, who wisely avoids giving her affections to either of the buffoonish leads.

Refreshingly, the film’s twists are inventive and sometimes genuinely surprising (either that or I wasn’t able to pay close enough attention due to the fact that a pair of cumbersome 3D glasses were stuck to my face).  The comic-book-style revelation scenes near the end are very well put-together, and the pair of Rogen and Chou are genuinely likable (a necessity, since the lion’s share of the film’s dialogue belongs to them).  The role of Chudnofsky is a “cool-down” role for Waltz, who plays a stereotypical archvillain and appears to be having some genuine fun with it.  It’s his first role since his wonderful performance in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and he’ll follow it with performances in the potentially-great Water For Elephants and the umpteenth remake of The Three Musketeers.  Diaz appears only to keep the film from being a “brodeo” (to use the parlance of our times).  It is due noting, however, that the film has a certain homo-eroticism to it, usually initiated by Reid.  He and Kato form a best-buds relationship, but some of the humor has further layers.  Reid asks Kato to “take [his] hand and come on this adventure,” and sheepishly claims to a roomful of journalists that he and Kato are “just platonic” after blurting out “Kato is my man.”  They bicker like a couple, have the classic Movie Break-Up and Reunion, and playfully slap each other on the privates once or twice.  Plus, neither of them end up with a woman in the end.

As a whole, the film delivers what it promises.  You’ll be disappointed if you go in expecting anything but silly action, campy humor, and death treated like a casual routine.  I wonder, though, with Chou’s prominent billing, large blocks of dialogue spoken with a genuine accent, martial-arts moves that sometimes resemble Wing Chun (including an explosive-yet-incorrectly-delivered “No Inch Punch”), and a clever Bruce Lee reference hidden in Kato’s sketchbook… did the Chinese once again rename it The Kato Show?

The Green Hornet (2011); written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg; directed by Michel Gondry; starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz and Cameron Diaz.