Movie Review: The Green Hornet (2011)

Jay Chou and Seth Rogen in The Green Hornet
Photo: Columbia Pictures

I had no idea what to expect from The Green Hornet. What should we expect from a Michel Gondry-directed film written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express), starring Rogen and based on a pseudo-superhero from on old school radio series that went on to be a TV show starring Bruce Lee? There is no precedence for this kind of thing. It’s an “accept it for what it is and hope for the best” scenario, and what it ends up being is a so-so film that doesn’t fall flat on its face but has a hard time getting over its relatively interesting first third.

Probably the worst thing going for The Green Hornet is that much like Robert Downey Jr. in the recently released Due Date, its lead character is a bit of an ass. Rogen plays Britt Reid, the spoiled son of a Los Angeles media mogul (Tom Wilkinson) whose life consists of “party all night” and “sleep all day.” Admittedly the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree as Wilkinson isn’t winning “Father of the Year” anytime soon, and upon his father’s death, Reid is placed in charge of the family empire, but not before letting off a little steam.

Partnered with the martial arts, genius-level inventor and house barista Kato (the impressive newcomer Jay Chou), Reid sets out to defile a statue in remembrance of his father before the two end up saving a young couple from being mugged. Using his father’s newspaper to his advantage, Reid dubs his own attempt at becoming a vigilante as The Green Hornet and gives it front-page placement. This doesn’t sit well with local crime boss Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz of Inglourious Basterds fame) who believes he runs L.A. and won’t stand for anyone treading on his turf.

The story then plays out like so many other superhero movies before it and, initially, you think there’s going to be something to it considering it has that added attempt at comedy. The banter back-and-forth between Rogen and Chou is entertaining, particularly on the part of Chou whose broken English somehow manages to make even the most mundane statement sound a little silly. But soon Reid’s ego and ignorance just becomes too unbearable. You realize this is a character flaw that’s going to resolve itself by the end of the movie, but instead of serving as a moment when a character learns from his mistakes it’s simply a moment of relief when you don’t have to hear him whining any longer.

Chou’s martial arts talents are placed on display early, but not often, and Gondry’s attempts to deliver original fight scenes can be applauded, but it’s a bit of a misfire as the action gets severely muddled. I know the motto is if it doesn’t work at first try, try again, but here I wish he’d just given up and gone more traditional. Waltz is mildly entertaining as the aggressive, though sort of slow, villain, but the film’s true highlight comes almost immediately thanks to a cameo appearance by James Franco.

If Rogen and Goldberg had somehow been able to harness the entertainment level found in Franco’s one scene this film would have been an absolute hit. Instead, it only serves as a reminder of a moment that was much funnier and more entertaining than everything that follows.

The Green Hornet isn’t one of those unmitigated disasters you may expect from a film whose subject matter seems better suited for a summer opening. It’s actually not a terrible film, though Gondry and his editor Michael Tronick really showed a lot of weakness in how this thing was pieced together. It’s a bit bloated and some scenes are even forced into the film just to get a small piece of exposition necessary for later on. In fact, Cameron Diaz’s character (she plays Reid’s secretary) seems forced and entirely unnecessary outside of an attempt to get a female into the film.

On one final note, don’t expect anything from the 3D. Like The Last Airbender, Alice in Wonderland and any number of other post-conversion 3D films there is hardly a whisper of three-dimensional content in this film outside of some obvious CG broken glass and bad guy, post punch spittle. Audiences are wising up to this though and I suspect the inflated 3D ticket prices won’t have much of an effect on what I imagine will be a solid opening weekend followed by dwindling week-by-week returns.