2011 – Seth Rogen-esque rich kid Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) inherits his father’s media empire and teams up with his mechanic/valet Kato (Jay Chou) to become a crime fighter. It’s Knocked Up meets Kick-Ass.
There are some movies that I secretly take pleasure in, but that the vast majority of people really dislike. This dissonance in opinion is so striking that it makes me feel guilty for liking the movie. I came up with the term “guilty pleasure” to describe this type of situation, and I think the phrase has a certain ring to it. Paul Blart: Mall Cop, any snuff film, The Green Hornet – all might be classified as “guilty pleasures.”
I can understand how the concept of “Seth Rogen in a big-budget superhero action movie” didn’t translate into box office gold. But having watched the movie a couple times, I have to ask myself: is The Green Hornet as bad as its reviews and reputation suggest? Can it be any less entertaining than the superhero schlock that we’ve been forced to endure in the years since its release? Let’s delve into it, you and I, and see whether this black sheep of the superhero genre deserves a second look.
What Worked (Like killing off Judi Dench’s ‘M’)
James Franco’s Uncredited Cameo
Yep, that’s noted soap opera actor James Franco playing cocky drug dealer “Crystal” Clear. His one scene, in which he delivers a scathing critique of gangster Benjamin Chudnofsky (Chrisoph Waltz), is one of the highlights of the movie. Honestly, I think The Green Hornet would have turned out better if it had just been those two characters talking in a room for an hour and a half.
Jay Chou as Kato
If there’s one thing the screenplay got right, it’s how they handled Kato’s character. It would have been very easy to drop him into one of many buckets – the devoted servant, the wise Asian guy, the serious martial arts master – but the script goes deeper. He’s an expert fighter and master mechanic, but he’s also socially awkward and has a hard time making friends.
I love the awkward scene where Kato gives Britt Reid a gas gun – the implication being that Reid is a crappy fighter and needs a ridiculous device like that. Britt is suspicious; Kato tries to pass it off as a compliment: “But… you’re so special.” Chou’s delivery is spot-on.
Cameron Diaz Being Old
Damn. Diaz was 38 or 39 when this movie came out, playing a character who is supposed to be 36, and looking about 45. Her appearance here, of course, recalls to mind The Mask (made 20 years earlier). The comparisons are not flattering.
Her character, Lenore Case, is Britt Reid’s new intern at the family newspaper. At first I thought the movie was trying to put her over as the “hot young thing” she used to be. But it pulled a fast one on me when Britt goes on a bizarre, Michael Scott-esque tangent about how she’s pursuing an intern position in “her twilight.” It’s a smart, self-aware moment and really helps sell her character.
(Most) Fight Sequences
The fight scenes are highly stylized and really unlike anything you’ll see in a superhero movie. There are crazy zooms, the camera swoops around, objects and people are highlighted… it really helps you imagine what the fight looks like to Kato’s trained eyes.
Scumbag Politician Character
Yeah yeah, I know everybody loves David Harbour now because of Stranger Things, but I appreciated him long before for his turn as District Attorney Scanlon. Harbour plays the role with a chilling sort of blase cynicism; the scene where he tells Britt to slant the news “so we both benefit” is especially eye-opening today, given the incestuous relationship the American press has with a certain legendarily corrupt presidential candidate.
What Didn’t Work (Like Viggo Mortensen after Lord of the Rings)
The Opening Title
It’s just plain white text that fades in and out during one of the first scenes. Uninspiring. The end titles are much better.
Britt Reid vs. Kato
If a superhero movie is going to have a ridiculous all-out fight sequence… why would you have it be between the hero and his sidekick? It’s silly, it goes on far too long, and it distracts from the urgency that the actual plot was building.
This is, obviously, the big one. While I respect him for getting in shape (sort of) and giving the role his all, the critical flaw of The Green Hornet is that it stars Seth Rogen. The guy plays a character who is supposed to start out as unlikable, matures over the course of the film, and ends up being a hero we can all root for. The problem is, he’s never that likable. Is it the gravelly voice or the doofy chuckle or the rubbery face? I don’t know. I just know that I don’t really like it.
As a screenwriter, Rogen also couldn’t resist injecting a little of his “describe exactly what’s happening” style of comedy. In the middle of a pretty exciting car chase, he remarks, “These guys are amazingly well organized.” Moments like that are 1) not funny, 2) distracting, and 3) just sloppy writing. Seth should really have had someone else – maybe someone who’s made movies like this before – give the script a sweep and clean up the “slacker comedy” bits.
What Was Just Awkward (Like a fat girl in a Harley Quinn costume)
The Reid Family Being So Rich
Britt’s dad ONLY owns a newspaper, but he has an immense mansion and a basement full of classic sports cars. Back in the 1940s, this might have been believable; nowadays, it’s odd to think that the owner of an independent newspaper could be so fantastically wealthy.
It must have been quite a coup to snag Christoph Waltz – it’s his first movie role after Basterds. In the past I know I’ve criticized him for always playing the same character and, well, will you be shocked if I reveal that he essays the role of an eccentric foreign criminal who is somehow charming and likable despite his brutality?
His sub-plot – which is, admittedly, a unique approach – is that he’s having a mid-life crisis. People keep saying he doesn’t dress cool enough or that he’s not as scary as the Green Hornet, which really eats at him. You can tell Waltz is doing his best to portray a guy who’s slowly coming unhinged, but he just doesn’t have enough time. Chudnofsky and his gangster associates seem like almost an afterthought, and by the time they really step to the fore, the movie is practically over. This movie forgot the old adage that a hero is only as great as the villain he overcomes.
This is probably the most words you’ll ever read about The Green Hornet, and for that I apologize… but all things considered, the movie isn’t that bad. It’s actually kinda good, if you give it a chance.
So, give it a chance.