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I was just a kid watching reruns of some classic TV shows from the 1960s, but I remember this opening monolog as well as William Shatner’s classic intro to Star Trek. “Another challenge for the Green Hornet, his aide Kato, and their rolling arsenal, the Black Beauty. On police records a wanted criminal, the Green Hornet is really Britt Reid, owner and publisher of The Daily Sentinel; his dual identity known only to his secretary, and to the district attorney. And now, to protect the rights and lives of decent citizens, rides the Green Hornet!”
Believe it or not, The Green Hornet has been around for quite some time. He first appeared as a popular radio series that ran in the mid 30s through the 1950s. He later would grace the big screen in two successful movie serials. And then, of course, ABC would bring this crime fighter to televison in 1966 and 1967 during the height of the Batman crazy. Since then, one could only find the Green Hornet in televison reruns or the pages of some indie comic books. That is until Director Micheal Gondry and writer/actor Seth Rogen have delivered this hero to the big screen; and in 3D, no less. The big question is in this day of hit-or-miss super hero genre films, can Rogen and company deliver on one of my most beloved crime fighters?
The cool thing about the Green Hornet (aside from his bad ass car, the Black Beauty) is he’s not your typical crime fighter. Instead of donning a mask and going out publicly to bust the bad guys, Britt Reid dons a mask and acts like local criminal. This allows him and his trusty valet Kato to get close to the criminals and break up their plans and let the police clean things up.
The movie follows this formula quite well as Seth Rogen portrays Britt Reid. In the film, Britt is a spoiled playboy who inherits his father’s newspaper amd fortune after his untimely death. In his grief, Reid fires all of his father’s caretakers until he realizes that none of them can make a decent cup of coffee. “Who used to make my coffee?”, he screams. Well, that would be Kato (played brilliantly by Jay Chou) the former mechanic and secret martial arts wizard. Reid soon learns that Kato is a master inventor and has retro-fitted his father’s limo with bulletproof windows and other nifty gadgets. Together, they get drunk and head out to deface his father’s statue and in the process wind up breaking up a robbery.
Reid comes up with a novel plan of using their new secret identities to pose as criminals so they can get close to the real bad guys. He uses the power of his newpaper to create the persona of the Green Hornet to generate attention and publicity. This does not sit well with the local crime boss, Benjamin Chudnofsky, (Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz, from Inglorious Bastards) and he vows to kill the Green Hornet so as to not lose any more power. What follows is a funny-at-times series of car chases and bar fights that try and piece themselves together into a coherent film.
I’ll be honest, I wanted to love this movie. I’m a big fan of the Green Hornet and Seth Rogaen has made me laugh more times than I can remember. While not the perfect choice for the lead role, I was hoping he could pull it off and provide some laughs along the way. (I’m hoping the same for Ryan Renolds as Hal Jordan in The Green Lantern film this summer). However, Rogen’s portrayal of Britt Reid for 3/4s of the film is down-right annoying. Rogen’s Reid is a spoiled brat who never takes anything seriously and is seemingly unaware that he is driving everyone nuts. This is not the Britt Reid I remember from my youth, and I’d be okay with that if it were genuinely funny. Sadly, oftentimes it’s not. And that just makes him unlikeable, a trait not associated with super heroes at all. In the last reel of the film, Reid “gets it” and begins to take his role of The Green Hornet seriously, and the last thirty minutes of the film are quite enjoyable. But I have to ask if that makes up for the first half; and I’m not so sure.
Cameron Diaz portrays Lenore Case, Reid’s personal secretary. Case has a degree in criminology and unwittingly helps Reid and Kato plan their next steps as vigilantes. Case is an important character in the canon of The Green Hornet, and as one of two people who know his secret identifty she provides insight and helps the team. Here, Case is a comedic love interest as both Reid and Kato want to date her and then begin fighting, jeopardizing their entire plan. In the end, they do reveal to her their secret identities, but there’s no time for Case to grow as that character and we are left making a huge leap of faith that she has bought into what Reid and Kato are up to.
Christoph Waltz graces us with a fine performance after his Oscar-winning performance as the “Jew Hunter”. Sadly, his talents are wasted on a trite script and an unusual desire to become a masked vigilante himself. I found this strange because as a confident suit-wearing bad ass he was perfectly menacing enough. I guess that wasn’t funny so they pursued this angle instead.
The movie does have two brights spots however. The first is Jay Chau as Kato. American audiences will remeber that Bruce Lee played the original Kato in the 1966 television series and later went on to have a hugely successful movie career. Because of this, Chao has some huge shoes to fill. Jet Li was originally hired to play Kato in 2000, and later Steven Chao was offered the role. Both actors walked away from the project leaving the door open of Jay Chau to walk in. Chau is a huge singer, actor, and director over in China and he brings a very unique presence to the film. His quiet humility and charm over-shadow Rogan in almost every scene and we watch and wait for him to kick Reids’ ass (which he does quite nicely). It’s the old sidekick as the real hero story being told quite well in the film and because of his great performance, I am eager to see what more Chau has in store for us here in the states.
The second thing this film has going for it is the amped up version of the Black Beauty. This 1965 Chrysler Imperial is simply gorgeous; and when you add glowing green headlights and missle launchers to it, it just kicks ass. Kato makes three versions of this car, so we have another one waiting when the first one gets trashed. Oh, and trashed it shall become, but not after laying waste to mutiple bad dudes. It was the real star of this movie and a ton of fun to watch. Gondry does an excellent job and filming all the chase scenes and adding tension through multiple cuts. I said in a previous article that I wanted a 1968 Batmobile; well I want a Black Beauty now too!
Black Beauty and Kato aside, I’m only lukewarm on this movie. It has been in production hell for over a decade, with multiple writers, directors, and actors on and off the project. The end result feels more like half a movie. I felt the same way after watching Starsky and Hutch, another film that parodied something cool from my youth. Give me characters I can believe in and throwbacks to things I loved and I will be far happier than cheap jokes about the genre that only land half of the time. For fans of the genre I would say go and check it out, but certainly don’t expect too much from it. It’s a decent popcorn flick and it’s better than a lot of the trash that is in the theaters today. I certainly wouldn’t pay more than matinée prices for it, and I’m not sure how good a date movie this is either. Let’s hope that our other green heroes grace the screen better than this one.
Rating = 2.5 buckets of popcorn