Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Green Hornet

Title: The Green Hornet

Is This The Guy With The Ring? No, that's Green Lantern (coming to theaters  June 17).

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Three Lone Ranger masks out of five.


Wait, What Do The Masks Have To Do With Anything? In the radio serials, Britt Reid was the grandnephew of the Lone Ranger.

Does That Come Into Play In The Movie? Well, no, aside from a brief shot of the LR on a TV.

Then Why Bring It Up? Why are you doing this? I thought we were cool.

Brief Synopsis: Spoiled media heir Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) dons a mask in the wake of his father's death and battles crime with the help of his trusty sidekick Kato (Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou).

Not So Brief Synopsis: The younger Reid is an embarrassment to his father (Tom Wilkinson); a hard partying douchebag who throws tantrums when his coffee isn't made right. The unexpected demise of the elder Reid (allergic reaction to bee sting), editor/publisher of the Sentinel, doesn't initially change Britt's behavior, and he seems content to let the Sentinel's editor (Edward James Olmos) run things.

Britt's epiphany comes after he gets drunk with Dad's former driver/valet Kato. In a manner that will be recognizable to anyone who's made a life-altering decision while under the influence, the two decide to go raise some hell. It's while sawing the head off dad's memorial that the two stumble upon an assault in progress, foiling it thanks to Kato's superhuman kung fu skills. Just like that, Britt decides to embark on a life of crime fighting, and the two start working their way up the underworld hierarchy, finally attracting the attention of slightly deranged Russian kingpin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz).

That Origin Story Sounds A Lot Like Batman's. It's true that Britt Reid, like Bruce Wayne, has the financial resources to outfit himself appropriately. Unlike Wayne, Reid lacks anything in the way of detective ability, mechanical aptitude, or fighting skills. Luckily, Kato is essentially Bruce Lee crossed with Tony Stark.

"Critical" Analysis: You know Hollywood's  officially plumbing the depths of the masked-hero canon when we start seeing movies based on old radio shows from the 1930s. The Green Hornet wasn't even a DC or Marvel property, enjoying its early print run in Harvey Comics, a company more famous for Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich than masked vigilantes. The character's most memorable appearance to date was the short lived 1960s TV show, and that primarily for the presence of Bruce Lee as Kato.

Then again, director Michel Gondry's take on the character differs significantly from most recent superhero flicks. Reid is a talentless lummox who naively decides to turn to vigilantism because it's the one thing in his life thus far that's given him a sense of purpose. He uses the paper to promote his activities, picking the brain of his amateur criminologist secretary Lenore (Cameron Diaz) for the Hornet's next moves. This leads to the expected disastrous consequences.

Gondry and Rogen (who wrote the script with longtime friend/collaborator Evan Goldberg) walk a fine line between fairly brainless bro-medy and occasionally knowing examination of the superhero genre. Reid's blundering approach to his new career has fatal repercussions, and unlike similar films, the bad guy's henchmen don't get left beaten and trussed up on the precinct steps, they get crushed under cement trucks and perforated with machine guns.

Reid's decision to become a masked avenger also deviates from the norm. His parents aren't killed by a mugger and he's not bathed in cosmic rays or gamma radiation, he just figures he wants to raise some hell. Granted, death by bee sting doesn't usually compel one's offspring to plunge into vigilantism, but we're essentially being asked to cheer for Brandon Davis as a crime fighter.

So on one hand, it's nice to have a superhero movie that recalls a simpler time, when heroes weren't steeped in angst (The Dark Knight) or overt creepiness (Superman Returns) -- or when newspapers were actually relevant. The closest comparison I can make is to 1996's The Phantom, which eschewed serious character introspection for old fashioned ass-kickery.

On the other, events proceed from mildly amusing to ridiculous in short order, and the biggest stretch of credibility is buying Rogen as an action hero. His and Goldberg's script has some fine moments, but the laughs only serve to underline why we can't take the whole thing seriously. As a comedy, The Green Hornet works quite well, as an action movie, not so much.

Not for lack of trying. Chou is more than capable as a badass, though Kato would probably be more successful on the hero circuit if he just found some way to surreptitiously siphon away Reid's trust fund and operate on his own. You might argue his Chinese accent would make him easy to identify, and I'd counter that Reid's deviated septum/perpetual stoner gargle is just as distinctive, but whatever.

I can't give The Green Hornet an unreserved recommendation. If you're looking for a straight-up superhero movie, move along. If you like your ridiculous 80s'-style action sequences punctuated with dick jokes, look no further.

See It/Rent It/Skip It: Rent it. The 3-D is superfluous, and nothing in the movie demands a big screen.

The Green Hornet is in theaters today. See it with expectations appropriately adjusted.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar