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The Green Hornet Fun For Awhile Before It Runs Out of Gas

The Green Hornet
Directed by Michel Gondry
Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg from the radio series by George W. Trendle
Sony, 2011

This is an odd team-up for sure.  The writers of Superbad and Pineapple Express adapt an old radio series, somewhat famously turned into a one-season TV series with Bruce Lee, directed by the guy who has given us such diverse movies as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind, The Science of Sleep, and Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.  To be sure, Gondry hasn’t quite hit it out of the park since Eternal Sunshine, although there are fans of his other work, but he seems like a unique choice to direct a comic book-style movie, so I was intrigued.  One thing, though, is that the writing team of Rogen and Goldberg would have to censor themselves a bit.  I kind of wonder what movie they might have made if they were allowed to go nuts.

The likable Seth Rogen takes on the role of Britt Reid, a wealthy young man inheriting a media empire from his recently deceased father (Tom Wilkinson).  Not much but a Paris Hilton-esque socialite, he is thrust into making decisions that are beyond his comprehension, becoming the editor-in-chief of his father’s Daily Chronicle.  And now he lives in a mansion all by himself.  He’s fired most of the help, but then he finds out that the coffee he loves was made by the mechanic, Kato (Jay Chou), and is forced to hire him back.  Kato knows cars, coffee, and kicking ass.  Reid and Kato strike up an easy friendship, and find themselves saving a couple from getting mugged (although, really, it’s mostly Kato), and it’s not too long before Reid decides that this is his raison d’etre.

Reid decides that he and his “sidekick” will act like villains while secretly destroying bad guys as heroes, pretending they just want a piece of the criminal action.  The main criminal here is Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz, the Oscar-winning actor from Inglorious Basterds), who apparently runs all the crime in LA, but incessantly worries he’s not scary enough.  Reid parlays his crime-fighting alter-ego into generating stories for the Chronicle, and hires a temp, Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), as his permanent secretary, since she seems to know more about the criminal mind, newspapers, really almost everything, more than he does.  The newspaper people eventually come up with the moniker Green Hornet.  And hey, Edward James Olmos is here.  He plays Reid’s father’s former confidant, Axford, and he knows his stuff, and is obviously a little wary of the younger Reid taking over the paper.  The District Attorney, Scanlon (David Harbour), is also very interested in how the paper will be run now that his close friend’s son is running the joint.

The movie begins light and airy and has a nice feel to it for awhile, but once things get “serious” (and that’s a term to be taken lightly) it starts to lose steam.  I know Reid is a bit dense, but his a-ha moment isn’t earned and it would have been nice to see some real investigation taking place (it’s a bit half-assed), even if Kato had to do most of the work.  There is a ludicrous climax where you might ask, “How does this help anyone?”  I know comic book-style stories generally go over-the-top, and that’s OK, but you start to wonder if the heroes are doing more bad than good when you see a sequence like the end.  The movie is best when Reid and Kato are hanging out, coming up with crime-fighting ideas, bonding, the bromance theme that has run in the previous Rogen/Goldberg scripts.  The Chudnofsky “am I scary?” character trait gets old and doesn’t generate laughs like I suspect the filmmakers would like, and there’s a tremendous failure with a love “triangle” involving Reid/Kato/Case that is supposed to be the source of animosity between the characters but basically drags the movie down every time it’s approached.

I’ve seen a lot of bad January movies and this one definitely holds up well against those failures from the past, and I’ve seen worse summer blockbusters too.  It can be entertaining at times, but don’t expect much more than that.

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