The adventures of The Green Hornet trace back to the 1930s, popularized through radio serials, comic books, pulp novels, movie serials, and a short-lived TV series that introduced Bruce Lee to America. But aside from nostalgic references, it's been 45 years since the masked superhero and his trusty sidekick Kato earned their way into widespread popular culture.
Ironically, though, it's the younger viewers who are more likely to embrace this film—it's assuredly not your (grand)parents' masked avenger. It's the sort of movie I would recommend to some while warning others away. It's too vulgar for kids and too juvenile for adults, yet certain kid-minded adults will enjoy this version's goofy mix of comedy and action.
Like the 2004 remake of Starsky & Hutch (with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson), this new Green Hornet is a strange balance between spoof and homage. If the story was played as straight and serious, we'd have Batman redux, or another musty old revival like The Shadow (1994) or The Phantom (1996). If it were any more silly and irreverent, the movie would be as terrible as the 2005 remake of The Dukes of Hazzard. Did we need a new Green Hornet in the first place? Debatable. In this case, chances are the less you know of the original, the more you'll find this edition entertaining.
The story itself is more or less intact. Wealthy playboy Britt Reid (co-writer and co-producer Seth Rogen) inherits a newspaper company after the mysterious death of his father (Tom Wilkinson). He soon meets his father's assistant Kato (Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou), a gifted mechanic, engineer, and martial arts expert who also makes a really good cup of coffee. Together they decide to make a difference in Los Angeles by fighting crime in an unconventional way: They'll pose as villains but act as heroes, becoming close to the bad guys only to deliver justice. Having a newspaper staff on hand can only help to build notoriety while gathering intel.
That much is true to the legend of The Green Hornet. Where this version differs is the portrayal of the Hornet himself. Rogen has made a career of playing overweight man-child schlubs; here at least he's a slimmed down man-child schlub. His unusual casting adds to the transformation of Britt from zero to hero and allows us to experience the joy of becoming a masked crime-fighter.
Unfortunately, Rogen is also the film's greatest weakness. He turns Britt into a vulgar buffoon who has no idea what he's doing, constantly chattering away and unable to do any good without the limitless skills of Kato. In one overlong (though funny) scene, Britt and Kato allow their jealousy for each other to get the best of them and they duke it out—except here it's an almost completely one-sided brawl, and we don't necessarily mind seeing loudmouth Britt/Rogen get the stuffing pounded out of him.
The script is also too Rogen-esque, teeming with profanity, innuendo, and violence. For a movie pandering to kids with action figures and fast-food tie-ins, it's an uncomfortable scenario. Those expecting the wholesome superhero from yesteryear are sure to be disappointed.
There's also some odd pacing. The main subplot involving city corruption and a drug kingpin (Christoph Waltz) doesn't truly kick in until the last 45 minutes. Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), Reid's secretary and love interest, doesn't arrive until the midpoint. Neither actor is given enough to do with their roles, though Waltz's charisma is evident. The focal point is the bromance between Britt and Kato; while Rogen and Chou have workable comic chemistry, there's just too much focus on their relationship, especially as their conversations and bickering grow petty and vulgar.
Still, there's much to like. Director Michel Gondry adds several creative touches, including a clever camera split that depicts the misdeeds of the bad guys. Gondry's also adept with using asides and angles to add to the humor, including "Kato-vision." And he's a pretty effective action director; despite the noise and bombast, it was easy to follow compared to films that rely too much on CGI and incomprehensible close-ups. For better or worse, the comedic action is reminiscent of the Lethal Weapon movies.
In the end, has another classic been revived through reinvention, or has it been diminished by crudeness? Does the humor and adrenalized action elevate it or ruin it? One could argue both ways. I mostly enjoyed it, but also acknowledge it's not strong enough to leave a lasting impression.Discussion starters
- Why do Britt and Kato decide to become superheroes? Is it for personal fun and glory? To make the world a better place? Both? Do their motives change as the movie progresses?
- Describe Britt's relationship with his father. Is he respectful of his dad? Is Dad respectful of his son? How does the memory of his father inspire Britt? How does Britt's understanding of his father's legacy affect his outlook as a crime-fighter later in the film?
- Britt's father rebukes him as a child, saying it's pointless to keep trying if he'll always fail. Explain how Britt proves that adage wrong in the end.
- What drives Britt and Kato apart late in the movie? What brings them back together?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
The Green Hornet is rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality, and drug content. Britt Reid is depicted as a hard-partying brat boozing it up with babes in tight-pants. A villain is a drug kingpin pushing crystal meth. There's a lot of gunplay with exploding glass, plus plenty of martial arts action. The violence is rarely explicit with very little blood shown, but there's some implied graphic violence in two scenes. A bad guy is (bloodlessly) stabbed in the eyes with a pair of wooden stakes. There's a lot of profanity (though no f-bombs) and crude innuendo. Definitely not a movie for kids.
Photos © Sony Pictures.
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