You would be forgiven for thinking that this film is set to be a flop. Seth Rogen does not seem like the natural choice for a crime fighting vigilante, and his bumbling charm is certainly not an immediate fit for one who is shrewd enough to play up to devious outlaw status.
The choice of director is equally off-the-wall. Michel Gondry, the man behind The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind is more used to existential conundrums and low-fi special effects than big budget baddie bashing.
But somehow, it works. Britt Reid, the son of newspaper magnate James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), is introduced instantly as the kind of directionless playboy that better fits the Rogen persona. He lives in his father’s shadow, and he loves it. Who wouldn’t? It’s non-stop partying with nothing to worry about.
But when Reid Snr dies in a tragic accident, Britt is thrust brutally into reality. He now owns the biggest newspaper in the city, and running it is not a simple matter of encouraging the journos to dig deeper on their sleaze hunts or type faster in the office. In fact, it turns out that the newspaper is being bullied by District Attorney Scanlon (David Harbour) who wants to make sure that his citizens are kept blissfully unaware of the crime that is spiraling out of control around them.
Time for Britt to step up and change his ways? Well yes, but it’s not quite such a sudden and shocking shift. You see it turns out that the guy who looked after his father’s cars (and made the coffee) was an under-appreciated mechanical genius with a few martial arts skills too. It is the discovery of this man, Kato (Jay Chou), that sparks the creation of the Green Hornet, and his journey into the depths of the criminal underworld.
Rogen and Chou make for a great comedy odd couple, the arrogance of Britt Reid and the frustration of Kato provide a powder keg of comedy explosiveness and dramatic tension that runs underneath the more standard action adventure storyline. The simmering tension boils over into some great scenes of Chou kicking Rogen’s ass, as well as some fantastic failed-hero antics.
Added to the mix are love interest Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) and crimelord Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz). Both of these actors prove a safe pair of hands, and both are coaxed into leaving the confines of convention to provide a few surprises. Chudnofsky in particular is a superb addition, crawling with insecurities that produce hilarious attempts to bring his fearsome image into the modern age: by adopting ridiculous names and increasingly absurd costumes, as well as some harebrained schemes to rid himself of the irritating Green Hornet.
Gondry deserves at least as much praise as the actors for this film. His biggest success is recognising that superheroes can still be funny, and embracing that in everything from the performances he coaxes from his cast to the careful deployment of his unique brand of visual effects. It’s not quite the quirk-fest you’d expect from him, but he weaves in some playful moments to enhance the usual array of explosions and chases into something altogether more original, enjoyable and funny. In fact, I challenge anyone not to laugh at the final battle sequence as it bounds from one farcical face-off to the next.
The biggest criticism I have of this film is that they wasted so much time converting it to 3D. It wasn’t shot this way, so the extra dimension is occasionally a little ropey. Only the titles and the odd effect seems suited to it. In short, you’ve got to suspect that the 3rd dimension was just a cynical attempt to wring a bit more cash from a release that has never had the high-profile hype a hero franchise needs.
Nonetheless, as a comedy and an action caper The Green Hornet is a resounding success that may well encourage Gondry to leave his arthouse confines and produce some more high quality popular entertainment for us all to enjoy. I certainly hope it does anyway, someone has to show the big boys how to do it.
Green Hornet is released in January 14th in the U.K. and the U.S.