Photographers, millionaires, farm boys and now Seth Rogen – superheroes are always the person you’d least expect. Here, Rogen is playing that most fearsome of individuals, the newspaper publisher.
In this superhero comedy, Britt Reid (Rogan) is a philandering playboy who abuses his father’s classic cars and spends his money partying, much to the old man’s disapproval. Then his father dies, leaving him the family newspaper, The Daily Sentinel - a business Reid has ignored until now.
Reid bonds with his father’s mechanic and chief coffee-maker, Kato (Jay Chou), through their mutual dislike of the deceased news mogul. Several drinks later and the drunken pair are mistaken for criminals by the police when they help a couple being mugged. High on adventure, Reid enlists Kato to be his partner so they can become vigilantes, fighting crime in the city whilst posing as criminals themselves because (insert garbled logic here).
As well as being a naturally-gifted fighter (and coffee maker), Kato can also kit out cars Wacky Races-style. Reid, however, is no superhero; partially due to a father whose motto was: ‘Trying doesn’t matter when you always fail’. Yet despite only providing inherited funds for Kato’s weaponry creations, Reid becomes The Green Hornet and Kato is relegated to sidekick.
Their rivalry increases with the arrival of Cameron Diaz’s Lenore Case, Reid’s new secretary, love interest and the unwitting ‘mastermind’ behind the pair’s plans. With Lenore’s research and Kato’s high-tech car, Black Beauty, the duo joyfully bound around the city at night, blowing up meth labs, causing police car crashes and leaving piles of corpses in their wake.
Their childish and murderous antics soon gain the attention of insecure crime boss Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), who has a monopoly on LA’s crime scene. As the bounty on their heads grows, Reid ensures his newspaper publicises their masked crime fighting so everyone knows they exist.
Beginning life as a radio series in 1936, The Green Hornet has been lovingly dragged into the 21st century 3D by Rogan, with some key changes that smack of his comedy background. In the original series, the duo decide to become the biggest criminals in LA so they can garner inside information to kick bad-guy ass and escape suspicion from the underworld. In the film, they want to be mistaken for bad guys because it sounds cool.
Directed by Michael ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ Gondry and co-written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, partners on Superbad and Pineapple Express, this sharp-suited role has been altered to fit Rogan’s robust frame exactly. Failing on all counts of suave one-liners, fighting skill and courage, Reid is instead gifted with chauvinism. As much as Rogan plays lovable loser very well, when his character declares his new secretary to be a hottie-bum-bottie, insults her age and then fires her for not getting off with him, he somewhat loses the lovable part.
Luckily his on-screen chemistry with co-star Jay Chou more than makes up for this because, ultimately, The Green Hornet is a bro-mance. Rogen and Chou enjoy more sparks between each other than with Diaz’s underused secretary. Rogen plays to type and excels and Chou’s deadpanning, despite his pop star background, is always perfectly timed. The film really hits its stride when the pair bicker like schoolboys over who’s the real hero, climaxing in an inevitable but excellent hero versus sidekick fight scene.
With superheroes that are more juvenile than studly, it isn’t surprising that Waltz’s supervillain Chudnofsky is more cartoonish than villainy. Phenomenal as the subtle and terrifying Jew Hunter in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, here he’s reduced to playing a hypersensitive bad guy who is as subtle as his double barrel gun (which might as well say ‘Acme’ on it). Slapstick isn’t Waltz’s strong point.
Darkly humorous films like Kick Ass have demonstrated that comic-book violence and comedy can mix well. But The Green Hornet is just another remnant from Rogen’s man-child back catalogue. The plot is thin and as a superhero comedy with a gung-ho attitude to killing, it’s off-beat at times. It keeps its cool (two words: door guns) and is funny, but despite striving for originality, it still doesn’t stand out amongst the plethora of superhero films.
There are flashes of genius, with an astounding 3D split-screen montage and an imaginative voyage into Reid’s thought processes. But these moments only hint tantalisingly at what this film could have been if only Rogen had dared to leave his adolescent persona behind him.