If “The Green Hornet” were to be separated into its basic elements, it would boil down to a manageable dose of slapstick action, a sprinkling of impressive martial arts, and an overly large helping of classic Seth Rogen comedy. That last part ends up being the driving force behind a movie that descends from the mildly believable tale of a rich, bored playboy with tons of money and his genius sidekick into a no-holds-barred, city-wide shootout interspersed with witty one-liners from both the good guys and the bad guys.
While predictability is not particularly avoidable for a hero-and-sidekick duo – a combination which has been a part of American media since the 1930s – it is difficult to find aspects of this film that stand out from the formulaic superhero movie theme. Fortunately, this is where Rogen’s humor, scripted into the movie by Rogen himself, comes in handy.
“The Green Hornet” makes several respectable stabs at keeping to a consistent plotline. The theme of integrity versus success appears in the beginning of the movie, in the form of main character Britt Reid’s father, James, who emphasizes the importance of both integrity and success to his young, pudgy son. The elder Reid’s heavy-handed parenting style signals early on that daddy issues are going to have a starring role in the development of the story – and sure enough, the Green Hornet rises almost entirely from James Reid’s ashes.
Luckily, Rogen’s sense of humor, recognizable from such films as “Knocked Up” and “Pineapple Express,” keeps the tone of the film silly enough to support an otherwise anemic plot. Even the Green Hornet himself doesn’t know where to take the plot next and must rely on the somewhat deus ex machina appearance of Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz). Case just happens to have been not only a journalism major with a minor in criminology, but one with an exceptionally good memory – or, at least, enough of a memory to recall what she learned in college fourteen years after graduating.
Despite the movie’s shortcomings, “Hornet” has some shining moments. Jay Chou reprises the character Kato, a genius engineer and martial artist originally played on television by the renowned Bruce Lee. Chou’s martial arts ability is matched by a surprisingly impressive sense of humor onscreen; his delivery of one-liners raised almost as many laughs as Rogen’s. The repartee between Chou and Rogen remains strong through comedic scenes and through more dramatic scenes – which, to be fair, are also pretty comedic.
The special effects and filming also serve to enhance the experience of the movie, with a number of imaginatively filmed cut scenes as a reminder of Michel Gondry’s direction. Gondry, who directed “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Science of Sleep,” imbues an offbeat quality into an otherwise spoofy film.
While nothing can take away from the goofy effect of sushi-shaped USB drives and an antagonist who changes his name from Chudnofsky to Bloodnofsky, Gondry makes the silliness seem streamlined and intentional, instead of awkward and out of place.
Special effects are used, almost shockingly, in moderation, except when it comes to the Green Hornet’s main ride: a retro-looking, impressively tricked-out car named Black Beauty. Thanks to Kato’s genius engineering skills, Black Beauty is outfitted with everything from door guns to green headlights to a beanbag shooter.
Overall, the characters in “The Green Hornet” are simple: a rich boy who wants to prove his jerk of a father wrong, an underappreciated sidekick who wants respect, and a bad guy who wants to be scary. With a set up like that, “The Green Hornet” could have gone anywhere; the choice to take the movie deep into the realm of goofy, offbeat comedy, supported by the efforts of Rogen and Gondry, made the film ultimately more loveable (and forgivable) than it otherwise might have been.
Lindsay Orlov may be reached at [email protected]