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The Green Hornet Movie Review: Seth Rogen and Michael Gondry Give Us a Slacker Green Hornet

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There’s been some question as to what kind of a film the Michael Gondry / Seth Rogen version of The Green Hornet was going to be.  First you heard they were playing it straight.  Then you heard comedy.  IMDB’s current description (12/21/10) is “By night, debonair newspaper publisher Britt Reid fights crime as a masked superhero known as The Green Hornet. At his side is martial arts expert Kato.”

That’s not accurate.  Seth Rogen’s Britt Reid is anything but debonair.  This Green Hornet is a slacker piss-take on superheroes that happens to have a heavy body count.  It’s also very, very funny.

You may not realize it, but the Green Hornet is a very old property.  The radio version dates back to 1936.  Yes, this is a masked hero older than Batman.  The radio show ran from 1936 to 1952.  It was actually a spin-off of sorts from the Lone Ranger.  The Green Hornet’s father Dan Reid was the nephew of the Lone Ranger that appeared in the radio version of the Lone Ranger (to the best of my knowledge that character didn’t transfer to the TV version of the Lone Ranger).  In 1966, a TV version of the Green Hornet was launched by the producer of the camp Batman TV show.

That version is known for Bruce Lee playing the Hornet’s sidekick and chauffer, Kato.

Why am I bringing up the history of this proud franchise?  Because if you’re a big fan of the radio version or the TV version, that is to say a Green Hornet purist, DO NOT SEE THIS FILM.  For a purist, this is a desecration on par with Frank Miller’s Spirit film.  Unlike The Spirit, the Green Hornet is extremely enjoyable if you aren’t married to the mythos.

Kept in Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s script are a few key elements.  Britt Reid is still a newspaper publisher and the Green Hornet.  Kato drives the Black Beauty (and this is more the ’60s kung fu Kato and supercar Black Beauty).  Lenore Case is still Reid’s Secretary.  The Green Hornet is still assumed to be a criminal by the police.  And past these elements, things skew wildly.

This Britt Reid is something of a male Paris Hilton.  A none too bright party animal.  Kato is indisputably the brains of the duo.  The creation of the Hornet has more to do with working out some daddy issues than wanting to protect the public.  In fact, as a hero, Reid is almost completely useless.

Adding spice to the mix is Christoph Waltz as the Russian crimelord of Los Angeles.  You may recall Waltz’s multiple-award-winning performance as Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds.  Waltz has a singular talent for being deadpan and delivering understated punch lines and straight lines while being simultaneously menacing.  Which is to say he effortlessly chews the scenery with a straight face.  Waltz is going to find himself competing for roles with Christopher Walken.  Waltz is a bit more menacing and even more deadpan than Walken and this time out plays a gangster who has emerging doubts that his reputation is slipping.  The steps he takes to try and fix this are simultaneously brutal and funny.  Waltz has few peers where reaction shots are involved.

Really, this is where the Green Hornet separates itself from other films in the action/comedy landscape.  Seldom have I seen films go from slapstick and slapstick violence to people getting killed in a serious fight scene in such a quick and seamless manner.  That’s really hard to pull off, so give the cast some props.  If Marvel really wanted to do the Garth Ennis “Welcome Back, Frank” version of the Punisher, they should give Gondry a serious look.  He’s pulled off something similar, if not nearly as dark, with this film.

Also refreshing is the willingness of Rogen, Goldberg and Gondry not to redeem their hero.  Britt Reid is a spoiled dipstick when the movie starts and he’s a spoiled dipstick when movie ends.  Every time they enter into a clichéd buddy movie scene, laughter breaks out before you can start groaning, largely because everyone stays in character without some silly character-building moment of clarity.

Very highly recommended if you’re looking for something along the lines of “5 people died and I laughed” to put in the words of somebody I went to undergraduate with.  If you’re a fan of the earlier incarnations, proceed with caution.  Much like you don’t want to think about Mission: Impossible the television series when watching one of the Tom Cruise films, you need to be able to separate this film from the previous versions to enjoy it.

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12 Comments

  1. I saw a screening of this film and I totally disagree…this film is NOT funny. It’s a waste and I seriously think audiences will take a pass. They really hould have left the franchise alone and made a silly movie if that was the plan. This could have been a real cool flick but the over used same ole comedic routines are played out! Seth Rogan just isn’t funny and they could have picked a better sidekick…with better skills.

  2. And if you were walking in looking for a serious Green Hornet film, this is a very valid opinion. Make no mistake about it, this is a piss-take on the Green Hornet. (And the funny thing is, I liked The Green Hornet, but changed channels when watching Pineapple Express, which is where the comparisons seem to be coming from.)

    I wouldn’t complain about sidekick choices, though…

  3. Hey Todd, i don’t have an issue with your article. To each his won. it’s just that…I spend a lot of time watching film…I collect DVD’s and bluerays and work in film. With the cost of movie tickets going up…if I’m going to watch a comedy…then the movie better be funny. I have seen these gags a MILLION times! i don’t care if Seth Rogan does it…it’s tired. As far as the side kick goes…he was flat too. I know a LOT of martial artists who have a TON more screen presence…and ability. Thats my opinion. I wasn’t looking for a serious hornet film…it had Rogan in it…that spelled out what I was getting into. I’m not mad…just disappointed. Pineapple Express was FAR more entertaining!

  4. We’re cool. I’m expecting the Green Hornet fans to have a mass freak out, though.

    Sometimes you do wonder why they bother getting the license if they’re looking to do a parody. It adds so many expectations from different directions.

  5. I havent’ seen the movie yet. But I have seen the trailer and TV spots many, many, many times.
    My question is this (and maybe those who have seen the move can answer this for me):
    Why is Rogan’s Green Hornet character even nessesary? The trailer makes it look like Kato is the one who has all the gadgets, Kato has all the skills, Kato has all the brains. So why isn’t friggin Kato out there fighting crime on his own? Does he just lack the motivation that only a chubby white slacker can provide?
    I don’t get it.

  6. Rogan’s character is the one who comes up with the idea of crimefighting. But yes, Kato is the one with all the gadgets, skills and brains. Many of the jokes spin out of that.

  7. Thanks Todd!

    Of course, this begs the question: What the f is Kato doing with all that stuff if he’s not fighting crime? Just using the Hornetmobile to pick up chicks?
    Of course, I can always wait and see the movie, I guess (at home, on video, like and old person, probably)

  8. Todd, thanks for the review! Looking forward to seeing this one, but I have a few questions to ask. Did you see it in 3D and is it absolutely necessary to watch this in 3D? (Even though my common sense leans heavily towards NO)

  9. I thought it was fine in 2D.

  10. I agree with you the movie is really funny. Yes, there are some parts not so “smooth”, but the overall effect is quite good and Waltz is really great.
    Kato is the loose ring in the chain, not so “explosive”.

  11. okay i saw the trailer and green hornet looks amazing it might not be a great movie but you cant excpect to rewrite something that was already great so give the writers some props they probably tried their best. like yall could have done any better oh and by the way reid is need as more of the social backround he knows how to blend in and kato knows how to whoop *** so they are both very well needed the are comeplmentry. so if its a good partnership add some comedic lines and it will be a great movie.

  12. I’ll pass……..If I wanted to see some silly slapstick movie I’d watch one of the millions that are now at the bottom of the $5 bin at Walmart. I really hate when these studios screw up a perfectly good story line by trying to make it into something it’s not. Britt Reid wasn’t some overweight idiot making tired wise cracks looking for a few cheep laughs by shooting himself with gas guns. Seth Rogen is so far from funny I can’t describe the torture. Like someone already said if Kato is the one with all the gadgets and brains why even make them a duo?? Nice try Hollywood but you won’t be getting my $10 for some stale comedic rip off with some added 3D to suck in more dollars.

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