The Green Hornet

Movie Information

The Story: A spoiled rich kid and his late father's mechanic decide to become vigilante heroes posing as criminals. The Lowdown: Better than you might expect, with more evidence of director Michel Gondry than seemed likely, but the film only sporadically rings the gong.
Score:

Genre: Action/Comedy/Thriller
Director: Michel Gondry (Be Kind Rewind)
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Tom Wilkinson, Christoph Waltz, David Harbour
Rated: PG-13

I’d hoped for better, but expected worse, which means that Michel Gondry’s The Green Hornet is at best—or at worst—a mixed bag of a movie. There are good—or at least very clever—things in it, but it comes across as three movies trying to be one. It’s partly a quirky, slightly sweet, somewhat dark Michel Gondry movie, partly a subversion of the superhero comic-book movie and partly a star vehicle for Seth Rogen’s ego. The first two parts make a better blend than does the final third, making it tempting to blame the things that don’t work on Rogen. Yet, Rogen co-wrote and co-produced the film, so it’s unreasonable not to credit him with at least some of what’s good about The Green Hornet.

The source material is something of a curious choice, since The Green Hornet only seems like a comic-book character. The Hornet actually originated as a radio show in 1936, spawned a couple of serial films and several not exactly world-class comic-book attempts. Its greatest fame to modern audiences comes from the cult following of the one-season ABC-TV series that was made largely to cash in on the same network’s Batman show. The Green Hornet show was played straight—unlike Batman—and was not a huge hit. But the presence of Bruce Lee as the Hornet’s sidekick, Kato, eventually gained the show a following, and is the main reason it’s remembered today. (Quick—without recourse to reference material—who played the Hornet? Exactly.) The new film draws more from the TV show than anything else—including poking fun at the hero as really being subordinate to the sidekick.

The new Hornet has Seth Rogen as Britt Reid, spoiled, party-boy son of newspaper publisher James Reid (Tom Wilkinson). It’s only after his father’s death that Britt and his father’s mechanic/coffee-maker Kato (Jay Chou) decide to become crime fighters posing as criminals—and really for no very good reason except that they think it would be cool. They—especially Britt—don’t have a clue how to go about it, since their first bout is accidental. As a result, they end up relying on Britt’s secretary (and crime specialist) Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) to unwittingly provide the trajectory of their plans by telling them the usual path taken by criminals. All this is good, and it works in broad strokes at least.

Also good is the relationship between Britt and Kato in all its gay (but non-erotic) subtext glory—and the fact that neither of them can get to first base with Lenore. The relationships—and the way that Gondry handles them—are remarkably similar to the ones involving Jack Black, Mos Def and Melonie Diaz in Be Kind Rewind (2008), and it’s surprising that Gondry was able to imprint so much of himself onto a project like this. For that matter, there’s more than a little of his trademark low-tech, handmade quality, and that’s equally surprising in a big-budget action picture. Similarly, the character of Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds)—a clearly insane arch-villain, whose major preoccupation is how scary he is—would fit right in with the world of Gondry’s films.

With so much that’s right with The Green Hornet, what’s the problem? Well, primarily it’s a combination of pandering to its star, who just isn’t as funny as he thinks he is, and the film’s necessity to fulfill its action-picture promises. There’s nothing wrong with the big climax, but it feels more like it was required than inspired. It doesn’t by any means sink the movie, but it doesn’t improve it, nor is the ending as good as the film’s quirkier aspects. In the end, it’s a movie that I’d recommend—especially to Gondry fans—but with some definite reservations. And the retrofitted 3-D? I didn’t mind it, but it is utterly pointless. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

23 thoughts on “The Green Hornet

  1. The film was on the hook bad. It annoyed me to no end. Rogan cannot write, the two leads had no chemistry, Diaz was unnecessary and there was not enough of Gondry’s touches to make it interesting. The best part was the end credits. They were cool plus they told me that the movie was over.

    I’ll watch the two Gondry music video compilations again to purge my memory.

  2. Ken Hanke

    The film was on the hook bad.

    Oh, my, no.

    Rogan cannot write, the two leads had no chemistry, Diaz was unnecessary and there was not enough of Gondry’s touches to make it interesting.

    There are many things Rogen cannot do, so you might as well add writing. The chemistry was better than I expected. It didn’t need to be Diaz, but the character is pretty necessary for the plot. There was a lot more Gondry than I expected. I think it would be nearer the mark to say it didn’t have enough of the things you like about Gondry.

  3. A couple of the fight scenes had that “Gondry touch,” but honestly I didn’t see much else. It was definitely a Rogen vehicle so I don’t know much influence Gondry had on the picture.

    Christoph Waltz was good but I first thought that he was Tim Roth.

    This film has actually been in development for a long time. Apparently George Clooney and Stephen Chow (KUNG FU HUSTLE) were attached to it. Imagine the film THAT could have been!!!

  4. Ken Hanke

    Since I saw it on Friday, my opinion has been oscillating between your two opinions.

    I think it depends on how you feel about Be Kind Rewind. Since that’s the Gondry picture it most resembles, I expected Marc to hate it. But since that’s probably my favorite Gondry film (I only know his features), I am more sympathetic to Hornet.

  5. I expected Marc to hate it.

    Oh yeah? I expected you to expect me to hate it!

    I wanted to like it. I went to like it, but those small creative flourishes were just too few and far apart for me.

    I’ll lend you the two Gondry music video dvds Ken if you want to see them. I expect you to like them.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Mark Kermode said he would’ve preferred the Sweded version

    Mr. Kermode and I are oft not on quite the same page.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Oh yeah? I expected you to expect me to hate it!I’ll lend you the two Gondry music video dvds Ken if you want to see them. I expect you to like them.

    I expect you’re right. The only thing of his I’ve seen that I didn’t like was Human Nature — and I seriously didn’t like it.

  8. davidf

    “The only thing of his I’ve seen that I didn’t like was Human Nature—and I seriously didn’t like it.”

    What’s your take on Human Nature? I enjoy that film a great deal.
    I like thinking about all the parallels between The Green Hornet and Be Kind Rewind. It’s strange though that Be Kind Rewind is such a sweet film and The Green Hornet is just all out destructive. The enormity of the body count in the movie caught me off guard. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  9. Ken Hanke

    What’s your take on Human Nature?

    I only watched it once, and am disinclined to repeat the experience, so the best I can give you is my reaction, which was profoundly negative. I found it forced, phoney, unfunny and rather unpleasant.

    I like thinking about all the parallels between The Green Hornet and Be Kind Rewind. It’s strange though that Be Kind Rewind is such a sweet film and The Green Hornet is just all out destructive.

    Hornet also lacks the chemistry of the three leads in Rewind, but the approach — including the subtext — is almost identical. As for the destructive aspect, I think that kinda goes with the genre.

  10. chalkbox

    There wasn’t much to this movie. By the time I reached the theater door I wasn’t even thinking about it. I didn’t like or hate it. But why the 3D? There was nothing in the movie that benefits from it. I hate wearing those damn glasses, especially for no reason.

  11. Ken Hanke

    But why the 3D? There was nothing in the movie that benefits from it. I hate wearing those damn glasses, especially for no reason.

    Why the 3D? Simple — they can charge you more to go see it. The reason it added nothing is due to the fact that the movie wasn’t shot in 3D. This was an after the fact decision by the studio, and retrofitted 3D almost never does anything for a movie.

  12. davidf

    I’ll give Gondry credit for doing a few interesting things with the 3D as after effects, even if it was just a split-screen montage and a credits sequence.

  13. golden sin

    I liked the Asian guy, he was awesome. I did not like Seth Rogen. Ugh. Plus we went to the wrong movie. Thought we were seeing “The Green Lantern”. ha ha!

  14. TigerShark

    Just saw it. Thought Edward James Olmos was pretty much wasted. And why cast a Hispanic in a role that calls out for an Irishman? If you’re going to change his role (Axford was a reporter, not an editor) why not change his name, too.

    Cameron Diaz didn’t have much to do but I liked what she did. If there’s a sequel it would be cool to see her as the mastermind, giving orders to GH and Kato.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Well, she’s already the brains of the outfit.

    I wouldn’t hold my breath for a sequel. I don’t know what the international take is, but if indeed it cost $130 million to make, as has been claimed, it needs to gross about $260 million to break even. Stateside, it’s not even to $100 million yet.

  16. pepiacebo

    I went wanting to like it. I certainly like many moment, but I often found myself laughing at how ridiculous it all was. Somehow, I didn’t see it coming: Pineapple Express meets Batman starring Seth Rogan.

    I keep wondering, was this better than Salt?

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