Directed By: Michel Gondry
Screenplay By: Seth Rogen, Evan Golberg
Based on the character created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker
Produced By: Neal H. Moritz
Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, David Harbour, Edward James Olmos
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 110 minutes
Release Date: January 14, 2011
Review Date: January 14, 2011
The end credits remind (or, for some, teach) us that the Green Hornet, the masked vigilante who’s as wanted by the cops as criminals, has been around since the radio days. He’s also appeared in the comics and pre-feature serials, though most know him for the year-long series starring Van Williams. Most of those people only know that show for introducing the world to Bruce Lee (this version pays homage to the with a sketch of him and a reference to being “too fast for the camera”).
The Green Hornet doesn’t do much to improve the hero’s stature, turning him into a spoiled, buffoonish publishing tycoon who knows as little about journalism as he does about crime-fighting and feigning to be criminal, and demotes the sidekick’s far more effective tactics, making them secondary to slow-motion, effects-laden brawls with a video game aesthetic.
In daily life, the Hornet is Britt Reid (Seth Rogen), the son of newspaper owner James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), who is seen at the beginning of the movie ripping the head off of his young son’s favorite superhero action figure to make a point that his son’s attempts to protect a girl from a bully — like the rest of the kid’s efforts in life — are a failure. Twenty years later, Britt lives in his father’s pool house, parties every night, and shows off to the random women he takes home dad’s garage, full of classic cars, before taking them to bed on the pull-out couch.
Dad dies, the apparent victim of a bee sting (though we suspect immediately and rightly that it is only the appearance of an accident), and Britt takes over. After realizing his coffee just doesn’t taste as good after he fires most of the staff in the mansion (very, very spoiled, this one), he calls Kato (Jay Chou), Dad’s former mechanic who customized cars with bulletproof coating and other luxuries, back to work.
After decapitating the statue of his father at the cemetery, Britt notices a couple attacked by a gang, distracts their attention toward him, and watches as Kato pummels them. When his heart starts pumping, Kato explains to Britt, “It’s like time slows down,” and indeed it does.
Director Michel Gondry employs a kinetic view of Kato’s skills, where time slows down, bad guys fly across kaleidoscopic expansions of cars, and Kato’s tempo of movement remains the same, meaning he can leap from the ground to the roof of the duo’s custom car, the Black Beauty, while two baddies are still in mid-air from kicks. Before and during the fight, a red targeting reticle highlights threats and future targets, so a gang’s automatic weapons glow just the same as a two red spots between one thug’s legs before a debilitating kick.
In other words, the movie is as tech-happy as its central characters, who pimp their ride with rockets, green headlights, machine guns, a mounted record player (because Kato prefers classical music), and a seemingly endless supply of gadgets that always has exactly what they might need at any particular moment the action throws at them. At one point, the car is sliced in two, leading Kato to remark, “Front-wheel drive,” before half of the car begins to do as much damage as the fully intact model.
These scenes are a collection of chaos: explosions, cars flying in the air, sparks igniting, and henchmen crushed by any number of things (a bulldozer, a chunk of concrete, the other half of Black Beauty). Even Rogen’s wisecracking (if not improvised, written by himself and Evan Goldberg) cannot keep up, leading to such understated non-jokes as, “These guys are really well-organized.”
There is a pretty amusing comedy in between the bedlam. The main villain Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), who controls all the criminal goings-on in Los Angeles, is obsessed with being perceived as “scary” and kills anyone who calls that into question with a dual-barreled pistol (James Franco has a cameo as a rival drug dealer that implements an inspired stream of insults). Cameron Diaz is Lenore Case, Britt’s secretary, who is one step away from planting a sexual harassment suit on her boss instead of a kiss. Even Britt and Kato’s jealous arguments over who’s the more important one bring about some good results, until the animosity erupts in a use-everything-in-the-room fracas.
When The Green Hornet’s sense of humor aims at and defies genre conventions, it finds a modicum of success, though the movie spends far too much time, especially in the hectic climax, partaking in them.
Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.