Seth Rogen as Britt Reid a/k/a The Green Hornet
Jay Chou as Kato a/k/a Kato
Cameron Diaz as Lenore Case
Christoph Waltz as Chudnofsky a/k/a Bloodnofsky
David Harbour as Scanlon
Edward James Olmos as Axford
Jamie Harri as Popeye
Chad Coleman as Chili
Tom Wilkinson as James Reid
Edward Furlong as Tupper
James Franco as Crystal Clear
Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is your typical spoiled rich kid; lots of money, a dad (Tom Wilkinson) who was kind of a jerk, and thus not much to do with his life but entertain himself and annoy his father. Preferably both at the same time. When said father dies suddenly, leaving Britt with the wealth and responsibility of being a major newspaper publisher, naturally his first order of business is to team up with his father’s old chauffeur (Jay Chou), who disliked his father almost as much as Britt did, to find even bigger ways to entertain himself and annoy his (dead) father.
Don’t think of this as a superhero movie. Think of it as a comedy about two brothers who haggle and spar with each other in the way that brothers do, in the process of wearing masks and beating up criminals.
George Trendle and Fran Striker’s original radio invention was not too different from the pair’s other classic creation, The Lone Ranger, right down to foreign cohort (Tonto and Kato) and exotic ammunition (Silver Bullets and a Gas Gun) and played just as straight. Writer-star Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg have not turned the concept of the Green Hornet on its head so much as turned it sideways. They’ve taken what they liked and used it as a backdrop to subvert by now standard superhero movie tropes and play up what they do best: often hilarious, occasionally heartwarming male bonding.
After initially coming together to reminisce on how big of a jerk father Reid was and drunkenly desecrating the statue above his grave, they accidentally save a pair of innocents from a brutal mugging and realizing what a rush it was decide to use all of Britt’s not particularly hard earned money, to go out and do it again. In style.
Of course, when I say ‘they save’ what I really mean is ‘Kato saves’ while Britt stands around looking most of the time. In the radio show and even more so in the mid-60s television version (which seems to be the most direct inspiration for the film, right down to the car and its hiding place in Britt’s garage), Britt was the brains of the operation while Kato did the muscle work. Rogen and director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) don’t kid themselves that anyone will easily accept Rogen as either, instead presenting Britt as an extremely charismatic doofus whose main ability is being able to talk people like Kato or his secretary Lenore (Cameron Diaz) or his editor-in-chief (Edward James Olmos) into going along with his ridiculous ideas.
Paradoxically, rather than weakening Britt as a character it actually strengthens him, mainly by strengthening the characters he interacts with. Rather than becoming the typical girl-Friday her initial appearance marks her as, Lenore ends up being forced to become the brains of the operation while also exasperatedly dealing with the advances of both Britt and Kato.
But the main recipient and the concept that makes the film work when it seems like it shouldn’t is Kato, who has been thrust from sidekick to full partner. Both the builder of all the gadgets and muscle of the Green Hornet operation, he comes to the same realization that anyone watching the film would, that he is fantastically more capable than Britt who he only really needs to capitalize the operation, and is annoyed that the Green Hornet gets all the exposure. The problem is he also genuinely likes Britt and likes hanging around with him, despite the fact that Britt’s spoiled rich boy upbringing has made it very difficult for him to realize just how badly he treats the people around him and begins treating them as equals.
Which is actually a pretty fair amount of work considering how much of it is just set up for Britt and Kato to kick each other in the groin. Which, in context, is much funnier than it sounds.
Action fans might find themselves a little stifled as “The Green Hornet” spends much more time dealing with these character-based antics, and the different aspects of Britt and Kato’s brotherly relationship, than it does on any the usual sort of action heroics. Even the villain (Christoph Waltz) is less of a villain and more of a character-based joke a rather maudlin and banal everyday sort of gangster who is genuinely surprised no one finds him scary (despite being quite sociopathic). When the Green Hornet’s faux-villain antics begin to take notice away from him in the criminal underworld, he goes through a sort of mid-life villain crisis, deciding he needs to be just as flamboyant without ever realizing he has no idea how to do it. Which gets you the unlikely image of Waltz running around in red leather and gas mask yell “I’m ungassable!” Which is also, in context, much funnier than it sounds.
When the action elements do show up, they don’t disappoint. For anyone who is only familiar with Gondry’s recent light, dreamlike comedy films and worried about the action elements, don’t forget that before that he was a very popular music video director with a great sense for dramatic angles and quick cutting and he makes use of that experience in his Kato-vision, half slow motion, half full speed action bits.
In fact, the only visual downside to the film is the execrable, post-processed 3D if you make the mistake of seeing it that way. There really is no reason to; unless you enjoy seeing the credits pop out at you like they were really there, because that’s about the only thing in the movie that benefits from it.
“The Green Hornet” isn’t without its problems. The pace, particularly at the beginning, is wonky with some strange cuts and whiplash moods that come with them. The extreme focus on Britt and Kato’s relationship, while good for them, relegates everything else into the background, including unfortunately Lenore.
For what problems it does have, though, it is a genuinely different take on this kind of material, with a firm simultaneous focus on action, character and humor. It’s like a house of cards swaying in the wind that keeps seeming like it will tumble over, but somehow never does. No one else should ever attempt to make a superhero movie quite like this, but for “The Green Hornet” it works, and works well.