Friday, January 14, 2011

'The Green Hornet' isn't super, but it's fun.

Jay Chou and Seth Rogen don't look at explosions.

The Green Hornet is yet another story of a billionaire playboy who decides to turn his life around and use his resources, his dark past and his trusty assistant to fight crime (a la Batman and Iron Man). Where it splits from previous films of its kind is in the kind of hero it portrays: a headstrong, largely good-intentioned buffoon who’s far more confident in his abilities than his fighting skills suggest he should be.

Ambitionless party boy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) has just inherited a successful Los Angeles newspaper after the death of his overbearing father (Tom Wilkinson). After a night of serious drinking and a morning of general apathy, he meets Kato, his father’s mechanic and resident barista. The two bond over a general dislike of Old Man Reid, as well as Kato’s supercool modifications (among them bulletproof glass and no-flat tires) to several of the vehicles in the Reid garage. 

During yet another of Britt's bad decisions, the two come across a gang of street toughs (yes, street toughs) attacking a couple in the street, and save the day. It’s then that Britt decides he and Kato should become a crime fighting team, but should masquerade as criminals to keep their good deeds hidden from the rest of the criminal underworld.

And so by day, Britt and Kato pose as big shot newspaper executives, assisted by the foxy and brainy Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), and by night don masks and do battle with the criminal element of Los Angeles and its leader, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz).

The Green Hornet has a long history in the costumed hero tradition. It predates Batman and Superman. It’s appeared in numerous incarnations over 75 years, including comic books, radio shows and a television series co-starring the legendary Bruce Lee. This version, written by Rogen and his partner Evan Goldberg (they wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express together) and directed by art-house icon Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), bears little resemblance to any of the previous Hornets. This masked hero is immature, selfish, cocky and definitely not the sharpest tool in the utility belt. Conversely, Rogen and Goldberg’s Kato has evolved version beyond the mere sidekick. He’s the backbone of the team, the facilitator, the guy who gets it done while his cohort is ducking below the bullets. Green Hornet and Kato have become an Odd Couple, and their crime fighting adventures are played for laughs.

Fortunately, the laughs are there in abundance. As in Superbad, Rogen and Goldberg once again prove their gift for pitting opposites against one another with rollicking results. Britt and Kato clash like contentious brothers over everything from women to the best gadgets to deploy, and it all works. 

The problem with this is that everything else doesn’t necessarily work around it. Skill in comedic dialogue doesn’t help Rogen and Goldberg pull off a convincing villain (even with a mega-actor like Waltz pulling his weight) or give any accurately sinister portrayal of the criminal underworld. This too is played for laughs, and the lack of contrast that presents is a stumbling block.

Still, the laughs are there, but they don’t work if you don’t like Seth Rogen. His Britt Reid/Green Hornet isn’t a character. It’s Seth Rogen in a domino mask. For some, seeing the dude from Knocked Up riding in a cool car and throwing punches is a good thing. For others, it isn’t. Fair warning. Chou’s performance is admirable if for no other reason than he manages to get bigger laughs than Rogen. Whether or not he has talent beyond that is tough to tell, since his co-star seems bent on talking as much as possible (which, again, may or may not be a bad thing, depending on how you feel about said co-star).

One thing that isn’t uneven or softened by ubiquitous comic touches is the action. Gondry proves he’s got the game to do a genre flick and do it well, interspersing trippy art-house touches (including a nifty device that could only be called "Kato-Vision) with classic blockbuster polish to great effect. Every action sequence ups the ante from the last, all building to one remarkably entertaining (if highly improbable) final showdown.

The Green Hornet is a deeply flawed film, but it’s a film that also packs plenty of entertainment into its two hour run-time. Don’t ask it to be something it’s not and it might prove a pleasant surprise.

Matt’s Call: If you’re burned out on Rogen, skip it. If you’re happy with a decent popcorn ride, this is your remedy. But don’t pay extra for a 3D seat. That technology is wasted on this flick.

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