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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

The Green Hornet (review)

The Outlaw Is an Ass

He doesn’t exactly kick ass: he is an ass. Life as a masked crime fighter with some slick wheels to groove him around town is not the chick magnet he imagined it would be: the smart, capable gal he’s after naturally wants nothing to do with him. His sidekick is the one with all the mojo, anyway. Best he can do is stand around watching everyone else do all the hard work, and make a few wisecracks… which no one laughs at.

Oh dear, but serious devotees of the Green Hornet, he of the dark, grim radio show of the 1930s, are going to howl. The rest of us can enjoy The Green Hornet, Seth Rogen style, as an aggressively goofy spoof of the modern dark, grim vigilante drama. If you can’t beat Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight Batman — and if you wanted to, it’s not doofus Rogen (Funny People, Monsters vs. Aliens) and madcap French director Michel Gondry (The Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) you’d turn to — might as well scramble in the other direction. Which Hornet does with as much cartoonish, chaotic energy it can muster… and more than a little meta cunning, too.

Daddy (Tom Wilkinson: The Ghost Writer, Duplicity) took away Britt Reid’s faux Superman doll and ripped its head off once, long ago, but now the spoiled brat — Reid really is an obnoxious idiot — and sudden heir to Daddy’s fortune, including Daddy’s Los Angeles newspaper, is playing superhero to his nerdy heart’s content. What’s most intriguing about this sly spin on the masked-avenger story might be how Rogen, who not only stars as Reid but cowrote the script with Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express, Superbad), doesn’t let Reid get away with being an overgrown adolescent, unlike far too many movies these days, in which male juvenile attitudes and behavior are celebrated as jest-plain-folks. Nope: here, Reid’s incompetence at the superhero role he fancies for himself is rewarded with physical beatings, his stupidity is bowled over by the genius and competence of his sidekick Kato (Jay Chou), and his imagined savoir faire is scoffed at by the likes of Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz: Knight and Day, Shrek Forever After), the inadvertent brains behind Reid’s vigilante hobby.

See, Reid is even a lousy criminal — he’s good only at making the cops and the media believe he’s a criminal, which is his one clever idea: if the bad guys running L.A. don’t realize he’s out to get them, they’ll never, you know, take innocent people hostage and stuff, the way villains always do when they need to tweak a caped crusader. Reid borrows Lenore’s expertise on criminal behavior to plan his adventures… most of which revolve around the city’s crime boss, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz: Inglourious Basterds).

Reid is an unexpectedly amusing twist on the superhero — and Kato an even more entertaining twist on the sidekick; Chou is deadpan hilarious — but the villains don’t escape getting sent up. James Franco (Eat Pray Love, Date Night) snarks his way through a cameo in which his wannabe criminal overlord confronts Chudnofsky, which lends Chudnofsky an air of insecurity that we’re not used to seeing comic-book villains (except, perhaps, to the degree that anyone wanting to take over the world, or even just a modern metropolis, is clearly dealing with some personal issues).

The homoerotic subtext that usually dogs a story about two guys who wear masks and get physical together becomes an overt running joke here. The PR angle on how heroes and villains alike sell themselves and their actions in a media-saturated world explicitly drives the plot and fuels the humor. If the action — which is often muddled, frequently ridiculous (cars fall on people a lot), and could have been cut without impacting the overall effect one iota — is outclevered by the comedy, it’s a small price to pay, from the currency of slam-bang movie enjoyment, for some satisfying superhero yucks, which we haven’t had in a long while.

Watch The Green Hornet online using LOVEFiLM‘s streaming service.

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The Green Hornet (2011)
US/Can release: Jan 14 2011
UK/Ire release: Jan 14 2011

MPAA: rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content
BBFC: rated 12 (contains moderate violence, language and sex references)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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