Now available on DVD, “The Green Hornet” was originally an old-time radio thriller, with the crime fighter and sidekick pair clearing the streets of the wicked city. The present attempt to bring the duo to the screen and update the story is both funny and frustrating. Seth Rogen—best known for such”R”-rated, college-crowd pleasers as “Knocked Up,” “Super Bad,” and “Pineapple Express”—brings his trademark offbeat humor to this one. Much of it works, with the occasional awkward misfire. But the film bogs down just where it shouldn’t: in the action sequences.
Rogen, playing the title character, is an anti-hero from the get go. In his normal life—if you can call it that-- he is Britt Reid, playboy and wastrel son of a newspaper tycoon (Tom Wilkinson in a cameo). When his father dies, purportedly by bee sting, he fires all the servants, only to discover that his morning cappuccino just doesn’t cut it. He summons his father’s mechanic, Kato (John Cho), who has built his own marvelous espresso machine, as well as taken care of Dad’s extensive collection of sports cars. This first hint of Kato’s technical savvy foreshadows most of the movie’s funniest bits, which focus on cars, gadgets, and weaponry.
The rest of them come from the relationship of Britt and Kato, the egomaniacal boss and his less than faithful servant. The two decide to be pretend gangsters, while actually being good guys. In this egalitarian age, Kato prefers to style himself “executive associate,” even making a play for Britt’s secretary (Cameron Diaz, apparently cast as scenery). For his part, Britt refuses to admit that Kato does most of the serious butt kicking. Their rivalry results in numerous verbal exchanges and one knockdown, drag out brawl in Britt’s apartment. The former are clever; the latter is tedious.
So are most of the car chases which punctuate the goings on. I’d like to have had more screen time given to Oscar winner (for his glorious work in “Inglorious Basterds”) Christoph Waltz. Here, he is an insecure gangster named Chudnofsky, a moniker that screenwriter Rogen has continual fun with. An early scene with Waltz and James Franco, playing an upstart rival who needs rubbing out, is perhaps the funniest thing in the movie.
But director Michel Gondry can’t sustain this kind of promising wit. Instead, the filmmakers too often opt for visual effects, lots of breakage, shooting, explosions, and general mayhem. The thing being parodied—the superhero action flick—too easily becomes the main attraction, but played straight. Frankly, we’ve had more than sufficient of the type. Both Rogen and fellow screenwriter Evan Goldberg are listed as executive producers; somebody else needed to have overseen the final product, making some judicious cuts. What could have been a wry twist on the action flick turns into a mishmash, rather original in concept but only sporadically funny.
“The Green Hornet” is rated “PG-13” for language and violence, along with “sensuality and drug content.” The teenagers and young adults who have given Rogen his current box office status will likely enjoy it. People who are old enough to remember the original Green Hornet—not so much.