By Bill Wine
KYW Newwsradio 1060
As superheroes go, this one is extravagantly campy, going for the giggle instead of the thrill.
The Green Hornet is a comedic actioner that would work better as an action comedy (an actionomedy, perhaps?) but that still gets the job done.
Seth Rogen stars as Britt Reid, an arrogant but well-meaning newspaper publisher who inherits his late father’s vast media empire and then dons a mask at night to fight crime (ineptly, it just so happens, but no one said he had to be good at either job) as the titular superhero.
The reinvented vigilante, not only lacking superpowers but any discernible skills, is disguised — along with his sidekick, the martial arts maven and mechanics maestro Kato, played by Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou, in his first English-language role — as a villain, the better to infiltrate the underworld and fight the real villains, while riding around in a heavily armed Chrysler Imperial they call “Black Beauty.”
The estimable supporting cast includes Cameron Diaz as Lenore Case, Britt Reid’s secretary and unrequited love interest; Tom Wilkinson as Britt’s domineering dad, the newspaper magnate who leaves his media empire to his ne’er-do-well playboy son; Edward James Olmos as the newspaper’s editor; and Christoph Waltz as Chudnofsky, the Russian boss of the Los Angeles underworld.
The script by Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who co-wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express) is a free adaptation of a radio series featuring a character first spun off from The Lone Ranger way back in the 1930s who was featured in a 1939 movie, and which became a comic book and a television series in the 1960s — the latter best known for the inclusion of superstar Bruce Lee as Kato.
Bromantic banter, especially in the form of playfully competitive interplay between Rogen and Chou, is the film’s essential strength and primary pleasure, even if you do get the feeling that Chou’s somewhat limited command of English, butted up against Rogen’s improvisatory instincts, keeps this aspect of the film from really taking off, as opposed to getting by.
Rogen plays the masked messer-upper as an overprivileged underacheiver, a selfish superhero and crabby crimefighter who demonstrates no detectable learning curve. And that’s the fun of it as Rogen the hyphenate tries to reinvent the superhero genre.
Director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Human Nature, Be Kind Rewind), taking on an action-oriented project for the first time and looking impressively comfortable in that capacity, has altered the property in the direction of casualness. That is to say, neither he nor anyone else on board seems to take the material very seriously.
Of course, whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on whether you find the approach funny or not.
The dialogue is meant to be witty, and often is. But this is no cookie-cutter comic-book flick: there is undeniable originality, creativity, and thoughtfulness on display. Smarts, let’s call ’em, devoted to tweaking the superhero genre and taking it in a less juvenile direction.
Still, Gondry seems to be speeding along so you won’t notice how thin the material is. And there are jarring switches in tone, bouncing from destructively violent to joyously slapsticky in a flash. And the excessive action and violence in Act III — recalling a similar tendency in Pineapple Express — loses sight of the fact that the charm and magic here is in the film’s moments of clever conversation, not the shoot-em-up antics.
One last point: the film is available in 3-D. To which your measured response should be, so what?
So we’ll mask 2½ stars out of 4 for the lighthearted comedic action thriller, The Green Hornet.
Is it superbad? No. Nor is it supergood. But in its best moments, it makes you forget how supertired the superhero genre can become.