– Summary –
Director : Michel Gondry
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Tom Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos.
Approx Running Time : 108 Minutes
Synopsis: The playboy heir to a newspaper fortune and his fathers former mechanic take up the role of heroic citizens in order to boost the circulation of the paper, while at the same time stopping crime in the city.
What we think : Amusing, often exciting, generic superhero adventure does well enough without being either a) offensive or b) genuinely cool, since this has the brutish personality of Seth Rogen to deal with. Comedic at times, and occasionally dark, The Green Hornet makes the most of its screen time with flair and energy, although at the end of the day, it’s pretty quickly forgotten.
It seems to me that the glut of films based around comic book heroes is starting to reach its peak – and is due to hit the peak somewhere about five minutes after the release of The Avengers. Unfortunately for Hollywood studios, there’s only so many Supermans and Batmans, or Spider-Mans to go around. After you get past the genuine superstar heroes, you get into the second row, the lesser knowns, and the below pars. The Green Hornet sits fairly in that second row of iconic heroes, and even then, has snuck forward from the third row. Based on the iconic television series of the same name, the character of the Green Hornet, along with his sidekick Kato, have been around for quite a while, including a variety of comic book and film serial adaptations. The Green Hornet, however, represents the first truly serious attempt to bring the character out of the niche market and into the mainstream. French cult director Michel Gondry, who gave us pearls such as Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind, goes all out with the comedy and action here, to his credit, and delivers a pretty decent action/adventure superhero film with a little bit of a morality fable buried deep (well, maybe not that deep) within it.
Ben Reid (Seth Rogen) is a bit of a wanker. He’s the son of a super-rich newspaper magnate, although he has no interest in running The Daily Sentinel, instead preferring to party, party and party. His father, James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), is sickened by his sons lack of conviction and life trajectory, although his alienation of his son during his younger years probably didn’t help their relationship. So when James is murdered, Ben is suddenly thrust into the role of being responsible for his fathers legacy. It’s not a role he wants, nor needs. His father’s mechanic, Kato (Jay Chou), shows the young Ben Reid all the crazy inventions he put into James’s fleet of classic cars, and Ben suddenly comes up with an idea to keep his fathers legacy alive. He and Kato will become heroes, since the city is being controlled by resident mobster boss Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), and set about devising their secret identities, their mode of transport, and their mission statement. As their actions to clean up the city bring them into conflict with Chudnofsky, the stakes become higher than ever. Using the publicity brought about by Reid’s newpaper connections, and new secretary Casey (Cameron Diaz), they fight to keep LA clean from crime.
Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Seth Rogen, as my wife will tell you. I tend to find his comedy boorish and juvenile, the kind of priggish stuff I’d imagine Will Ferrel might produce if he were thirty years younger. I thought he was pretty average in Knocked Up (a film I found squirmingly distasteful, to be honest), vastly unfunny in the overrated Superbad, and only barely likable in the raunchy Zack and Miri Make A Porno. I don’t normally find him amusing, as he seems to play on the idea that if he just keeps talking, and talking, and talking, he’ll eventually crack one joke and everyone will think he’s a comic genius. Sometimes I just want to smack him i the mouth to keep him quiet. The Green Hornet had the potential to be yet another of Rogens attempts to talk his way into humor, yet, the script he wrote with Evan Goldberg is actually pretty charming and, dare I say it, restrained. Sure, Rogen verbally bashes his way through a generally unsubtle performance as Britt Reid, a stark contrast to Asian pop-superstar Jay Chou’s more effortless Kato, but there’s a heart to his portrayal of a young man trying to find his place in the world. Rogen delivers what I can only describe as his most effective and natural performance, in a role suited to his bombastic personality, so I guess for that he should be commended – he’s able to recognize his strengths as a performer, and plays to those as best he can.
Most surprising in all of this is Jay Chou, as Kato. Considering his level of English is pretty unintelligible in real life (just watch the behind-the-scenes material on the DVD or BluRay) he delivers an American accent almost perfectly here. His dialect coach is to be commended. Chou is the perfect foil for Rogen, and their screen chemistry and partners (and then friends) is wonderful to watch. Kato was always a thankless character, in my opinion, considering he was the true “star” of the pairing and yet doesn’t even have a superhero name for himself. Chou steals every scene he’s in, and that’s an awful lot of material Rogen manages to be upstaged in. The casting of Cameron Diaz is, to be honest, pretty useless. Her character brings nothing to the film, her performance is on par with watching toilet paper flush, and she’s asked to do so very little in this film it’s amazing she even agreed to be in it. Christolph Waltz, basking in that post Oscar glow (he won Best Supporting Actor for Inglourious Basterds, dontcha know!), does a pretty amusing job of the films key villain, mobster Ben Chudnofsky, with the same leering cruelty he embodied in his Oscar winning role. Here, however, he’s less darkly evil and more comedically parody, a sort of jokster villain with big guns and henchmen.
Keen eyed viewers will spot cameo appearances from James Franco, as a shirt-lived cocky nightclub manager, while former Terminator 2 star Eddie Furlong (look fast for that!) pops in as a meth dealer; genuinely awesome actor Tom Wilkinson makes a dedicated (if uncharacteristically nasty) performance as Britts father, a man with as much personality as a canker, and while I understand the need for Reid Snr to have a an estranged relationship with his son, but the script doesn’t give us any depth to that estrangement. It’s like they have to be in order to justify the chain of events which unfold with James Reid’s death – there’s a lack of organic development appearing on screen. Still, it’s a minor point.
The films director, Michel Gondry, isn’t the most obvious name to bring a big-screen cartoon-film to life, better known for his low key dramatic twisters and the sublimely funny Be Kind Rewind; his back catalouge doesn’t immediately scream “blockbuster director”, yet the French born helmer gives this film the widescreen energy needed to keep the audiences happy. He balances the comedy with the danger, the action and the crazy, all with the skill of a seasoned professional. I admit to being surprised when Gondry’s name came up in the credits, because I’d not heard he was behind this – a happy surprise, to be honest, because I always felt his less commercial films deserved larger audiences than they got. Here, he’s made a name for himself as a large-scale film director.
The Green Hornet is a pretty decent superhero film, even if there are sluggish spots and characters who don’t really add much. Edward James Olmos, as the editor in chief of the paper, is wasted as the archetypal “father figure of reason”, while Reid’s relationship with Casey seems forced and badly handled – at least in terms of the scripting; neither Rogen or Diaz have any chemistry with each other, making their supposed “romance” less than realistic. The films central third bogs down with some disposable scenes involving car chases and montages of the Hornet and Kato doing their thing – it’s okay, I suppose, but the pacing of the film is off in the middle. It picks up at the end, however, with a great set-piece inside the The Daily Sentinel – cars, bullets and people fly through the air with a largely logic-free sense of style, and it’s great to watch. The major problem I think the film has is that at the end of the day, it gets lost in amongst the better superhero films. Green Hornet is a good film, it’s just not great. There’s too many iffy moments of comedy, which is a subjective facet of film in which you’ll either find it funny or you wont (I did most of the time, but not all the time) and I admit that Rogen did grate on me at various points throughout the movie. Still, it’s worth a look for a bit of a laff, and a bit of action.