February 1, 2011


Not to be confused with the Green Lantern, Green
Arrow, the Green Goblin or the Incredible Hulk

The much troubled adaptation of the radio serial/Bruce Lee TV show The Green Hornet is an interesting beast of a film. It has had a much publicised struggle to get to the screen, finally making it with Seth Rogen as the titular hero, Asian pop star Jay Chou as Kato, Christoph Waltz as the villain and with Michel Gondry behind the camera. The resulting film feels very loose and shaggy, as opposed to the iron-tight Kick Ass. Not entirely surprising, as it is scripted by Rogen and Evan Goldberg: the duo behind Superbad and Pineapple Express.

Despite everything there was going against it: troubled production history, relatively obscure character, a leading man more known for his schlubby stoner characters... it actually kinda works. Not in a game-changing, blow-your-socks-off kind of way, but it does work.

Seth Rogen plays Britt Reid, the heir to a newspaper empire*, as a maladjusted man-child. He's a self-involved slacker, raised in privilege and about as far away from that other millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne as you can get. After the death of his father, he has the run of the palatial estate (although still crashing in the poolhouse). It is at this time that he first meets his father's mechanic/coffee maestro Kato. The two unlikely friends bond - not over the death of Reid Snr. and a shared desire to avenge his death. No, Reid likes Kato because Kato seems to be the only other person who thought Reid Snr. was, well, a bit of a dick. After accidentally stopping a mugging (and being taken for bad guys) they decide to team-up and fight crime. By pretending to be bad guys... What comes out of this is not the usual hero/sidekick dynamic: Kato is the man of action, the cool asskicker where Britt Reid is a clumsy loudmouth, barely managing to not knock himself out. Britt Reid is also a complete asshole, without much in the way of redemption or change - in a lot of ways he's the same self-involved and deluded idiot he is at the start. It may turn some folks off (and I certainly struggled with it), but for some reason Chou's Kato finds within him a brother.

It's this relationship between Rogen and Chou that really makes the film work. They work well together on-screen, feeding off one another and working like a classic double act. It's also a pleasure to see Christoph Waltz again - in his first role after Inglorious Basterds - here, as the big bad guy Chudnofsky. And again, he's not the typical villain. Chudnofsky is a bad guy going through a mid-life crisis, fretting over whether he's still frightening enough. And the way that Waltz plays him? Icily, scarily charming. I just can't see what Nic Cage was wanting to do with the Jamaican accent... Cameron Diaz, as great as she can be, doesn't really get given a lot to do. She seems to have been thrown in to a) provide something of a female balance and b) plot mechanics - she applies for a job as Britt Reid's temporary secretary, even though she carries degrees in journalism and criminology. Convenient!

What feels very strange is that the film doesn’t really carry any of Gondry’s typical home-made charm or visual whimsy. With its extending backgrounds the first instance of “Kato vision” comes closest, but otherwise Gondry's presence melts into the background. The Green Hornet feels earthier, more grounded than his previous films. Again, you cannot help but wonder what may have been; if Stephen Chow had stayed on as director - would his hyperkinetic action style have been brought to the fore? Or would that have been compromised?

It's a shaggy kinda film; it meanders a little and dances from comedy to brutal action to cartoon violence and thus, back to comedy again. It doesn't take itself, or it's genre, too seriously and everyone involved seems to enjoy making an atypical superhero movie. It seems to carry it's pre-production history with it, in a strange kind of way, but you can't help but kinda love it for that.

*are there really any newspaper empire's left?!

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