A superhero movie … starring a guy from stoner comedies, a Taiwanese pop star, and an Oscar-winning villain… helmed by a French auteur/music video director. It’s the kind of cocktail that sounds dangerous, the kind you only drink in college out of red plastic cups. Is the hangover worth it?
Surprisingly, this odd coupling of talent has helped reinvent The Green Hornet, which had nowhere to go but up after enduring 15 years of pre-production: dark times when the film passed through two studios (before being bought by Sony Pictures in 2007) and multiple directors and stars with a myriad “creative differences.” Everyone from Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle) to Kevin Smith had their hands on the script. It was becoming increasingly difficult to remake a 1930s radio serial about a masked vigilante with no discernible superpowers (unless you count boorishness). Batman already had that locked up.
But with Judd Apatow protégé Seth Rogen co-writing, co-producing, and co-starring in the new release, the movie actually becomes a pretty successful comedy. It has Rogen’s stoner sensibility: likable irreverence, identifiable antihero, lots of sucker-punches to the groin and lines like “balls deep in shit kicking.” He stars as Britt Reid, a swaggering playboy who inherits his father’s newspaper empire after Dad (Tom Wilkinson) suffers a fatal bee sting. Britt doesn’t know a headline from a byline, so he teams up with his dad’s mechanic Kato (Jay Chou) to unlock his inner potential—aka fighting baddies with cool gadgets and a tricked-out car named Black Beauty.
It’s a couple of boys playing superhero, driving off to fight crime blasting “Gangsta’s Paradise.” And let’s be honest: Kato is the only one doing any fighting—he’s the sidekick with all the skills (kung fu skills, cappuccino-making skills…). Chou, the consummate pop star, comes off suave even though he stumbles over his English and is stuck wearing a ribbed red turtleneck. He’s the closest thing to a superhero in this movie—which is a problem. What is The Green Hornet? It’s not an origin story like Batman, or even a cheeky send-up of origin stories. Is it a 3D extravaganza with an art-house sensibility? Hells no. Director Michel Gondry—known for his creative flourishes on Bjork videos and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—plays it straightforward here, with the requisite car chases and explosions, and not much else. It feels more like the next installment of Rush Hour.
What about Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) as LA’s crime boss Chudnofsky? He’s reduced to a punchline after a hilarious James Franco monologue. There’s so much talent…and so little sting.
The Green Hornet is in theaters January 14.