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The Green Hornet Review

While rummaging through my brain in an attempt to squeeze the gray matter for just an ounce or two of cleaver witticisms and verbiage to kick off this Green Hornet review, I eventually decided that I was going about it all wrong. Rather than looking for something new and original to write, I should simply delve into my past reviews and find pieces of those articles that seem relevant, then just stream them together with a few jokes thrown in—that would arguably be the most fitting way to write a review for The Green Hornet, a movie that is painfully unoriginal.

That might be a bit harsh. The Green Hornet isn’t a bad movie, it just isn’t a particularly good one either. It has its moments, and it can be entertaining, but it is nothing you haven’t seen before many times, and odds are you will quickly forget everything about it as soon as your brain needs to make room for more important things, like what to buy at the grocery store, or who was eliminated last week on American Idol.

The Green Hornet is in a class with several other movies that straddle the line between comedy and action, as well as the buddy-cop genre (although neither character is a cop, the idea remains). There are a few laughs to be had, and the action can be wild at times if you don’t mind the over the top style. It is hard to have strong feelings about this movie one way or the other. There isn’t anything to really hate, but neither is there much to love. It is the essence of meh.

The Green Hornet returns with his faithful (and far more popular) sidekick Kato!

The name of the Green Hornet is one that has managed to stick around the edges of the pop culture sphere for decades, without ever really commanding much dedication. Some might say that it has a cult following, but that isn’t entirely true. To really justify the title of cult classic, you need fans that remain passionate about the property. The Green Hornet doesn’t really have that any more than the now defunct Pan Am airlines does. Both have carved a place in the history out of their respective fields, and the names still conjure memories, but neither seemed like something that was destined to return.

After the original Green Hornet debuted as a radio serial in the 30s alongside other radio adventures such as The Lone Ranger and The Shadow, it later re-emerged as a TV show that was remembered for one simple reason. The story was forgotten, the gadgets disappeared, but The Green Hornet TV show will forever feature the asterisk that it was Bruce Lee’s first American vehicle. Here in the states Van Williams was the star, as he donned the green mask and fought crime while living his days as a millionaire playboy. But in Asia, the show was renamed The Kato Show, and Bruce Lee was the star. The Green Hornet show lasted only a season, and besides helping launch Bruce Lee’s career in America, it was quickly forgotten by all but the most ardent admirers.

If not for Hollywood’s affinity for remakes, reboots and adaptations, The Green Hornet would likely have been relegated to dredges of TV in the 60s, along with shows like Laugh-In and the Man From U.N.C.L.E. (which coincidentally is also being remade into a TV show). It would have stood as a reminder of the past, and little more, with the possible exception of an odd comic book here and there. But Hollywood despises a void, especially in its collective wallet, so properties that can generate interest from name recognition alone, especially ones that can be totally reworked without offending too many people, are potentially worth their weight in box office gold.

And so, once more The Green Hornet went through the painful Hollywood birth canal. For years the property seemed like it was going to be in theaters at anytime, and several names were attached. At one point or another Jason Scott Lee (who played Bruce Lee playing Kato in the bio-pic Dragon), Greg Kinear, Jet Li, George Clooney, Jake Gyllenhall, and Kevin Smith were all connected to the project in some form. Ideas were tossed around, money was spent in production, but nothing ever came of it until producer Neal Moritz got his hands on the project and brought in Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the writing team behind Superbad and Pineapple Express. Hong Kong superstar Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle) was originally brought in to direct and star as Kato, but that too fell through. The point of this history lesson is that the journey for this film was long and perilous.

The story of a man and his much cooler mechanic

Britt Reid (Rogen) is a spoiled brat, whose primary goal in life are partying and annoying his father, James Reid (Tom Wilkinson). James is a billionaire newspaper mogul in Los Angeles that fights corruption through his paper, while Britt parties into the night and frequently appears in his father’s paper, generally in a less than flattering light.

When James dies, Britt is faced with the prospects of running a newspaper empire that he neither wants, nor cares about. He soon meets his father’s old mechanic, Kato, and the two from an unlikely bond, fueled by the fact that neither has even begun to crack their potential. While Britt is intelligent but unmotivated, Kato is a gifted engineer and martial artist that does nothing with either ability.

After a drunken evening, the men head out into the city to cause trouble, but that is interrupted when Britt attempts to stop a mugging. He does so but badly, and Kato quickly comes to his rescue. Together the two relish the excitement of helping people, and Britt then has an idea.

Rather than fighting evil out of altruistic motives, revenge, or a feeling of responsibility, Britt and Kato decide to fight crime because they are bored and think it is fun. Britt decides that they should pose as villains and attack the city’s criminals, claiming to take over while secretly working their way up the underworld and identifying the main threats. It doesn’t take long before the run afoul of the city’s resident kingpin, Chudnofsky (played by Inglorious Basterd’s Christoph Waltz), and Britt and Kato are quickly in way over their heads.

If you don’t like Seth Rogan, if his brand of humor does not appeal to you, then go ahead and take a pass on The Green Hornet. The film is dominated by Rogan and his brand of humor, although much less than in his previous films. The film is a comedy that happens to feature action moments, rather than an action film with comedic elements. Sometimes that works for the movie, sometimes it doesn’t.

The Green Cliche

From almost the first moment of the movie, you know what to expect. The plot is there to push the movie more than to appreciate, and looking too closely at it will reveal the somewhat ridiculous nature of the story. But that’s fine, audiences don’t typically go into these types of movies for a deep look at life, they want explosions and laughs, and that is fair.

There really are no elements here that you haven’t seen before. Attractive love interest played by Cameron Diaz, who also happens to be exceptional and one-of-a-kind despite her humble station in life? Check. Mustache twirling villain (figuratively) with nefarious plans that involve killing lots and lots of people despite all common sense? He’s introduced almost immediately. The mandatory falling out and reconciliation between the two characters? You know it. I could go on, and on. The cliché checklist for this film received a healthy workout, and while there are good moments to The Green Hornet, there really aren’t any original ones. It can quickly get tedious and dull if you aren’t prepared for it.

But again, in theory that is fine. You know what to expect in these types of movies, and The Green Hornet delivers. There are laughs, and there are some neat explosions. Of course, there are also problem. Things happen in the film that are forced, and seem to be rammed in simply to push the plot in ways that it really doesn’t need to go, but feels obligated to. The falling out between Britt and Kato, which I would label as a spoiler if it wasn’t so obviously coming, is totally unnecessary and serves no real purpose, and there are a few other moments like that. Big chunks of the film could be removed and the story wouldn’t even notice they were gone. The worst of it is that there is an interesting dynamic between Britt and Kato that is never fully realized. Maybe in a sequel.

All of that would be fine, but at points these forced additions to the film make for boring stretches, which seem to ignore all the fun of the movie and skip past all the humor to deliver faux-serious stakes to a movie that neither needs, nor wants them. It is easy to overlook all the clichés. It is not a problem that the story treads over ground so familiar you can almost guess the entire rest of the movie by the half way point, but the forced additions nearly derail the movie and bring all the flaws directly to the surface.

There is enough to like in The Green Hornet that you might still find yourself rooting for the characters, but you can’t help but feel underwhelmed by the lack of originality. The action does help make up for it, but there you won’t have much invested in the movie by the time it ends.

Directed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind), The Green Hornet is also heavily touting its 3D. While it was not filmed with 3D cameras, but rather converted in post production, Gondry planned ahead and shot the movie with depth in mind.  As a result, it is a decent movie to watch in 3D even though it really doesn’t benefit much from it. If you only see it in 2D, then you really won’t be missing much.

Visually the film looks good, and from a technical standpoint, it is well handled. The sound is also fine, so no worries there.

The Green Hornet, starring Seth Rogen as Seth Rogen!

While Rogen exudes the quintessential bumbling charm that has given him that harmless and likeable vibe in all his films, it is somewhat out of place in this movie. Britt is a playboy, totally irresponsible and foolish. Rogen plays that well because he wrote the role for himself, but the character is the sore thumb sticking out of this movie. He comes across as petulant and annoying more than once, and his “gee-whiz” awe at Kato’s gadgets gets old. At times it is hard to root for him, especially against the far more interesting, and yet far less explored character of Kato.

Britt Reid’s journey from waste of skin to bona fide hero is the main character arc that courses through this movie, which is not as interesting as you might hope. On the other hand, Kato begins as a hero without a quest, and easily slides into the role. Kato is by far the more interesting character, and Jay Chou steals the show. Unfortunately the character is badly under utilized at times, and ends up in the role of competent foil to Britt, which undermines the development of Kato.

Chou makes his American film debut with The Green Hornet, and to many he is an unknown–which is insane when you contrast his fame in Asia, where he is one of the most popular singers on the planet. Chou has released an album roughly every year since 2000, and each one has sold into the millions. Along the way he has won four World Music Awards as well. Recently he decided to try out acting—just for kicks—and in just his third role as Prince Jai in Curse of the Golden Flower, he was nominated for best supporting actor by the Hong Kong Film Awards. He then went on to direct, again, just ‘cuse.

Chou is charismatic despite some awkwardness which likely stems from the language barrier– when he began work on the film he did not speak a word of English. Although Kato is a martial arts expert, Chou himself has surprisingly never studied any form of martial arts, except for acting roles, which is impressive given his results in the film.

Rogen and Chou don’t have the same easy chemistry that most characters in similar stories display. There are probably plenty of reasons why, but the most obvious seems to be that Rogen is on screen more than he should be, which naturally pushes Kato off of it. It isn’t that Rogen is bad in the film, it is just that his character takes far too long to become worth rooting for. The occasional gag and one liner helps, but they sometimes feel forced, even when they are funny.

As a villain, Waltz does what he is asked with the eeeeevil bad guy, Chudnofosky, or “Blood-nofsky” as he later demands that he be addressed in order to seem scarier. But you know everything you need to know about him in his first scene. Waltz is good, but forgettable in the cliché wrapped motivations and dialogue of the character.

By far the most obvious problem with the film is Cameron Diaz, who only seems to be in the movie as a favor to Rogen or the studio. Her character of Lenore “Casey” Case is painfully underdeveloped, and Diaz is wasted in the role. When she first appears as Britt’s temporary secretary, there are a few very funny gags, but the character is there almost entirely as a plot device to unwittingly help the Green Hornet and Kato along, then to act as a sort of bizarre love interest. Except for her impact on the plot, the character could easily, very easily, have been removed from the story without hurting the plot.

It is possible that the studio brought in Diaz because a lesser known actress would have disappeared into the black hole of the character. Diaz is fine, but the character is terrible. There are hints that Casey has a much deeper backstory, but they never bother to discuss it. It’s a shame too, because there seems to be more to her story that may have ended up on the cutting room floor.

Conclusion

The Green Hornet is a decent movie that follows a pattern so closely that it becomes swallowed by it. The take on the deconstruction of the superhero is a fun idea, and the dynamic of Kato and the Green Hornet is interesting—if not all that surprising or original. The best thing this film has going for it is the potential that it could have in a future installment. Now that the obligatory origin story and bonding between Kato and Britt has been accomplished, a sequel could actually be fairly good.

Despite its problems, the stars of the film breathe just enough life into the characters to keep you interested, even with all the issues that are hard to ignore. If you like Rogen as an actor, then you will enjoy this film. If you don’t, you will leave bored. Chou has the daunting challenge ahead of him of breaking into Hollywood, and despite how his current role might appear, he does so without the mandatory skill set that is sadly required of most Asian actors looking for success in America–that of being a trained martial artist. He has the potential for stardom though.

The Green Hornet is good for a mindless hour and a half of your time, even though a month from now you will probably have forgotten all about it.

Pros

Some truly funny moments. A wildly over the top, but entertaining final battle.

Cons

An unoriginal plot.  Too much Britt, not enough Kato. Cameron Diaz is relegated to being a plot device.

[Updated to correct a typo.  Thanks to our reader Bob R. for the correction.]

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