THE GREEN HORNET (2011) (***)
One of the reasons why recent superhero flicks have succeeded where BATMAN & ROBIN failed is because they played the material straight and avoided too many post-modern flashes. Now we get a new superhero adaptation that attempts to find the balance between post-modern and a straight superhero story. Diehard Green Hornet purists might find the film too juvenile, but the character seems the right one for this kind of treatment.
Britt Reid (Seth Rogen, FUNNY PEOPLE) is a party boy, living off the millions of his father James (Tom Wilkinson, MICHAEL CLAYTON), the owner and editor-in-chief of The Daily Sentinel. Their relationship isn't warm; James has always been very hard on his son. But when James suddenly dies, Britt inherits the paper. He meets his father's mechanic Kato (Jay Chou, CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER), a brilliant inventor and martial arts master. He agrees with Britt that his father was a jerk, so they go out to steal the head off James' statue and in the process thwart a mugging. This spurs Britt to decide they need to become superheroes, but make everyone believe their criminals in order to keep the bad guys guessing.
With Britt putting the new up-and-coming crime boss The Green Hornet on the front page everyday, the city's real crime boss Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS) begins to get restless. Helping build Britt and Kato's criminal profile is Britt's new assistant Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz, THE MASK), a journalism and criminology major. But his father's top advisor at the paper, Axford (Edward James Olmos, STAND AND DELIVER), warns him that constantly kicking the nest will get you stung. When Chudnofsky doesn't think he appears scary enough, he starts going by Bloodnofsky and begins dressing in red. The Green Hornet and Kato are facing up against a guy who's a few shots short of a pint.
Rogen not only stars, but also wrote and produced the picture. Along with Evan Goldberg, he has crafted a buddy flick with an egotist trying to make his mark. He's the one with all the money so he casts himself as the hero. Kato has all the talent and skill, but Britt casts him as the sidekick, or executive associate, wherever they might be. Britt doesn't promote the difference more than when Lenore starts warming up to the former street kid from China. The film never apologizes for Britt's behavior. What a better character to poke fun at superhero vigilantes with than a jerk who plays superhero posing as a villain?
The comedy mixes satirical pokes at superhero conventions and the juvenile humor one might expect from Rogen. As a superhero spoof, the film doesn't blaze any new territory that KICK-ASS didn't with more bite. But I have to say some of the closing action sequences are so ridiculous that you have to laugh. The juvenile humor depends on your appreciation of that sort of humor. But it can't be denied that Rogen is good at delivering it.
Director Michel Gondry doesn't display his past flashes of surrealism, but then again he's not working from a Charlie Kaufman or his own script this time around. One nice directing flare comes when the city's criminals start to spread the word on the contract on the Green Hornet's head. Each time one killer tells another and they leave to tell others, the frame splits and before too long the screen is filled with dozens of frames.
The chief reason why the film works is because it doesn't forget to have compelling characters at its center. Bruce Wayne pretends to be a playboy to hide his Batman identity, but Britt Reid is a true playboy and he's about what a playboy superhero would be. He hires Kato to do all the dirty work and then takes all the credit.