‘Hornet’ May Not See a Lot of ‘Green’

There’s a reason this was released in January…

Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Edward James Olmos, Christoph Waltz, and Tom Wilkinson. Directed by Michael Gondry

Ouch. This one was near painful.

For those not in the know, “The Green Hornet” was an old-time radio show that ran from 1936-1952 and started a string of serials (old time short movies) as well as a 1966 TV series that starred Bruce Lee as Kato, the assistant to crime-fighting newspaper publisher Britt Reid. That’s as much as this movie has to do with the original storyline.

Seth Rogen is Britt Reid, the hard-partying son of newspaper publisher James Reid (Wilkinson) who has staunch views on his son’s come-what-may, happy-go-lucky lack of responsibility life. Reid owns and operates the Daily Sentinel, the only family-owned and operated, as well as respected, city newspaper. After returning home from a party Britt is confronted with the fact that his father was just found dead from a bee sting. Britt goes into shock and denial, firing all of his father’s personal employees and taking over the newspaper, not knowing a single detail about how to run it.

But he needs coffee. And he fired the one guy who made it just right.

So Britt re-hires Asian mechanic and barista Kato. The two bond over the fact that they’re both not big fans of Britt’s dad and they want to do something crazy. Something meaningful. Something important. While on a trip out to the cemetery for Britt to remove the head from his father’s statue Britt and Kato intercept a gang assaulting a couple. The “crazed excitement” leads them to want to become –a crime-fighting duo! (Only in the movies).

And here we address the central issue that backfires “The Green Hornet” for today’s society: the main protagonist Britt Reid is inept. Reid NEEDS Kato simply because Reid is inept. He can’t fight, he can’t fix anything; he’s Bruce Wayne sitting on his laurels or Tony Stark with no real ambition. Kato, meanwhile, fixes cars, make coffee, uses rationale… he’s the hero placed as the runner-up. The reason for the sidekick is to help out the crime-fighter who happens to be doing most of the action, not the other way around. This may have been a radical concept in the 1930’s but now we’re back to the tried-and-true formula. So is the idea that the crime-fighter is the anti-hero (although “The Dark Knight” alluded to that idea).

Back to the story. Local gangster Chudnofsky (Waltz, previously seen in “Inglourious Basterds”) has image issues. No one seems to think that he’s scary and a few have problems pronouncing his name. When “Hornet” busts up six of his meth labs it’s payback time and like any Internet-age villain he can get in contact with the Hornet via e-mail. His weapon of choice: specially designed double-9mm gun.

Enter Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) as Reid’s new secretary/ romantic interest who is far from interested in Reid and Axford (Olmos), the head editor of the Daily Sentinel who isn’t so sure of Britt, either. Throw into the mix the “friend who’s not really a friend” D.A. Scanlon (David Harbour) and you’ve got a movie that pretty much writes itself (although it was co-written by Seth Rogen).

The problem here is that the Green Hornet is not a viable product for today’s audience. While we’ll shout and scream and say in cacophony that we hate cookie-cutter movies and stereotypes we need them. Having the hero as an anti-hero and the sidekick given a bigger (and much more fascinating) role than the protagonist does not work with mass culture’s mindset. It worked in the 60’s in order to showcase the talents of martial artist Bruce Lee however no martial artist is, or will ever be, Bruce Lee.

The second issue is that the film tries too HARD. It comes across as wanting your affection but is it worth it? Not really. Maybe that’s how it goes. There are some laughs, the Black Beauty (their car) is cool as hell. The rest of it? Not so much.

Or maybe it’s Rogen playing Rogen. Like a kid who idolizes and wants to be the superhero SO much, that’s how he comes across. Rogen’s portrayal of Reid is a character stuck in twenty-something arrested development and there’s already enough of that in the world without having to pay $10 to see it on the screen.

Other than that the real star of the movie is Jay Chou. His Kato is as spot on as the movie requires and seems to be the central weight holding down the rest of its loftiness. Diaz and Olmos are just cashing checks in for the royalties. Even though Michael Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) is helming this one I wonder if he, too, was cashing a check because front to back this has Rogen’s name all over it. Not that Rogen is a bad person, mind you, but this film makes me less interested in the Rogen-verse. The guy cannot yet carry a movie.

Of note I watched this film in 3-D, the ipso defacto “cool” factor to make you want to go see movies. Aside from my eyes adjusting to the opening segments there was nothing in this film that warranted watching it in 3-D.

Watch for Edward Furlong as a guy who runs a meth lab. And a sketched picture of Bruce Lee.

My grade: D