Seth Rogen plays Britt Reid, spoiled playboy brat son of James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), a fabulously wealthy newspaper magnate (as if those existed any more), who realizes after his father’s sudden death that he has never done anything of real value in his entire life.
Britt soon befriends Kato (Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou), who worked on his father’s cars and made his coffee, but has seemingly unlimited skills, ranging from martial arts expertise to weapons manufacturing and piano playing. Faced with more and more crime infecting Los Angeles, the two cook up a fairly stupid plan in which they put on masks and pretend to be criminals so they can catch real criminals.
The villain of the piece is Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), a gangster who has achieved his lifelong dream of being in charge of all the crime in Los Angeles (you can just picture him as a small boy in Germany, dreaming of a life of crime in a faraway land), but is going through a bit of a mid-life crisis. He has worked so hard to unite all the gangs of L.A. (however one does that), but he doesn’t think that people find him scary, particularly with the Green Hornet around. All this is ridiculous, of course, but Waltz brings the same mixture of humor and menace that he did to Inglourious Basterds. You can see that his feelings are genuinely hurt when someone tells him he dresses like “disco Santa Claus,” and you can also tell that he might murder somebody at any second.
I’m not really sure why Cameron Diaz is in this movie. She plays Lenore Case, Britt’s secretary who unwittingly helps him figure out how best to fight crime. Diaz is fine, but it’s a small part that gives her virtually nothing to do. Britt and Kato fight over her affections, but it never seems like she really considers either one of them. More than anything else, it seems like the filmmakers realized they didn’t have any women in the picture, so they stuck one in at the last minute but forgot to give her anything to do. If the part were played by a less well-known actress, the problem might not be so glaring, but with such a big star playing Lenore it really feels like there should be some reason for her to be there outside of eye candy.
Or maybe she’s there just to prove to the audience that Britt and Kato aren’t gay. Their bromance is really the heart of the story, and Rogen and Chou have an interesting chemistry. No one can claim that Chau has a great facility with English, but he has a definite screen presence and handles the action scenes admirably. Rogen has his manic, hyperverbal shtick turned up to 11 here, and his never-ending stream of buffoonery fills any gaps in the conversation left by Chou’s laconic delivery. Luckily, Rogen projects an innocence and enthusiasm that make it almost okay to like him.
Rogen isn’t a likely choice to play a superhero, and the film realizes that. Rogen co-wrote the script with his Superbad and Pineapple Express writing partner Evan Goldberg, and the two make Britt a relentless jackass who gets into crime-fighting basically by accident and soldiers on despite his lack of basic competence at virtually everything. He is like what Bruce Wayne would be if he skipped the years of training and jumped straight to the crime fighting.
Of course, this device of the bumbling hero saved by his capable sidekick isn’t exactly brand new, as anyone who has ever seen Get Smart or Big Trouble in Little China can tell you, but here it’s consistently funny enough that it still feels fresh.
The film was directed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), who, like Rogen, doesn’t seem like the go-to guy for an action blockbuster. Gondry’s previous films have shown a limitless capacity for whimsy and visual invention, but little in the way of blowing things up. Gondry proves acceptable, if not spectacular, at staging the requisite car chases and explosions, but he does impose his own unique sensibility in a variety of ways, many of which have to do with the film’s clever use of 3-D.
Whenever Kato fights, the film goes into a sort of Katovision, with the picture stretching out and Chou moving faster than everyone else on screen. There is another scene in which the picture divides into multiple split-screens, with each portion on a different spatial plane than the rest.
The film can feel a bit muddled at times, with the commercial necessities of making a superhero blockbuster sometimes overwhelming any weird personal touches the filmmakers might be trying to inject. However, while the movie doesn’t quite live up to the possibility of bizarre genius that a teaming of Rogen and Gondry suggested, the script is consistently funny enough, with enough weird digressions and genuinely odd moments, that The Green Hornet creates a fresh and amiable atmosphere that glides over any rough spots.
Carey Norris writes about film for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.