A rich-boy doofus and his bad-ass martial arts expert partner fight crime in The Green Hornet, a messy, funny, almost-there superhero movie.
Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is the party-boy son of newspaper publisher James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), who is a much-respected man of the community for his hard-hitting journalism about Los Angeles. (OK, so, publishers tend not to do investigative reporting but I’m going to refrain from getting all nitpicky with the newspaper aspect of this movie. I mean, the Daily Planet, daily paper of the thriving city of Metropolis, appeared to have two working reporters and one photographer. Superhero stories are not known for accuracy in portrayals of journalistic life.) Britt is a minor tabloid sensation for all his wild parties and wastrel lifestyle. But then James dies suddenly and Britt, who has always wanted to do good but felt his father’s disappointment at his failures, is left in charge of his father’s foturne and publishing empire. Including the estate they live on, where Britt has been used to getting perfectly made cappuccinos each morning but awakes to find only lousy coffee the morning after his father’s funeral.
Seems that Kato (Jay Chou), his father’s personal mechanic, had also been making the coffee all these years and Britt inadvertently fired him when he fired his father’s house staff. He calls Kato back to Reid manor and the two start talking, then drinking, and then talking some more. Turns out they have a lot in common — both lost parents at a young age, Britt lost his mother as a young boy and Kato was an orphan who grew up on the streets of Shanghai (so maybe not “a lot” in common; maybe more like “some things” in common). Both felt unappreciated by James Reid, even Kato, even though he crafted awesomely tricked out cars, including a supped black Chrysler. A bit buzzed and full of an unfocused desire for justice, or something, the men head to the cemetery where James is buried to cut the head off the giant memorial statue of him near his grave. But during this act of vandalism, Britt sees and tries to stop the mugging of a couple walking down the street. When the gang that was attacking them turns on Britt, he makes a bumbling attempt at fighting back but then Kato gets in the mix and shows off his remarkable butt-whooping skills. The adventure gives Britt an idea — become a superhero to help clean up the city and furthermore do it by convincing the bad guys that he’s a bad guy so he can be even more effective at doing good-guy stuff.
And thus the Green Hornet is born.
One of the themes of the movie is that while Kato is awesomely talented and Britt is awesomely rich, neither really knows how to fight crime. There’s lots of goofy stuff about figuring out how to get to the biggest bad guy in the city — who happens to be, though the guys don’t know this right away, a mid-life-crisis-having Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz). He’s a criminal who has worked really hard to be at the top of the criminal heap so he’s rather perturbed when young whippersnappers with flashier duds try to unseat him. He’s particularly annoyed when the Green Hornet comes along and starts to grab media attention — what, am I not scary enough? he says. Unknowingly helping Britt and Kato with their crime-fighting plans (and helping them anger Chudnofsky) is Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), Britt’s new secretary at the newspaper who has a background in criminology.
The scenario of the Green Hornet and his nameless sidekick — or partner, as Kato prefers — blundering around the city’s underworld makes for some occasionally funny stuff. It also makes for scenes where lots of things are shot and people are kicked and stuff blows up but it’s only when all the action ends that you have any idea what’s happened. There is a serious need for another pass by the editor here — both the film editor and someone to edit the script, tighten up what are currently some funny ideas held loosely together by action. There is an epic fight scene about halfway through the movie — but it doesn’t feel epic in substance, more like epic in length. It’s long and confusing and you can’t tell whether the scene is supposed to be emotional or funny, only that at different points both angles were probably considered and a definitive decision was never made. A lot of the movie feels that way — there’s a bit of superhero stuff but, wait, is the movie making some meta wink at it or is it really trying to deliver great and terrible heroics or villainy? Or both, at different times? Or both, at the same time? There are a lot of elements here that clearly could work and occasionally even do — the script is filled with good bits of geek humor, Rogen is convincing as a schlubby do-gooder, Jay Chou is a dozen kinds of awesome, Waltz is (as we know from Inglourious Basterds) capable of spine-chilling villainy and is also able to be funny (as he occasionally is here), the Black Beauty (the 1960s car the Green Hornet rides in with Kato at the wheel, giving Jason Statham’s Transporter character a run for his money) is like a Bond gadget on crazy juice (complete with ejector seats, multiple guns and a record player). But it’s like looking at a pan full of gold still covered in mud. Without being cleaned up and given polish, this movie never really gets the chance to shine.
And none of this is helped by the movie’s 3-D. I’m sure the movie will also be available in 2-D and if you see it I highly recommend seeing it that way. The 3-D is eye-straining, headache-inducing and completely distracting.
Having said all that, The Green Hornet has its moments of fun. It isn’t quite where is should be but you can see it from here. B-
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content. Directed by Michel Gondry and written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, The Green Hornet is an hour and 50 minutes long and is distributed by Columbia Pictures. It opens in wide release on Friday, Jan. 14.