There’s something to be said for not taking a film too seriously and simply having fun. That approach will certainly come in handy when watching The Green Hornet, where bad guys trade style tips before killing each other and Seth Rogan tries to act tough. On the other hand, there’s also something to be said for telling an entertaining story. On that point The Green Hornet partially succeeds. Unfortunately, after its excellent first act, the film’s uneven pacing and largely unlikeable characters diminish its good points.
Britt Reid (Seth Rogan) is the son of wealthy newspaper mogul James Reid (Tom Wilkinson). While James spends his days reporting on the corruption of the city, Britt spends his nights partying and doing nothing with his life. It’s not until James dies from a bee sting allergy that Britt discovers more to his father’s life, which includes his father’s servant Kato (Jay Chou), who happens to be a martial arts expert, weapons designer, engineer and barista. They’re mutual resentment for father and employer prompts the two to commit an act of vandalism against James’ memory, unwittingly sending Britt and Kato down a path of fledgling superheroes as they foil an assault by happenstance. Feeling renewed purpose, the duo becomes the Green Hornet and his nameless sidekick who pretend to be bad guys in order to fight bad guys. They recruit the attractive and brainy Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) to help plan out the Green Hornet’s fake crime activity. When Britt and Kato finally attract the attention of the most dangerous gangster in town, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), they quickly learn that they may have bitten off more than they can chew.
Having Seth Rogan lead this film as a comic book hero is a tough sell. While it’s not unheard of to have the lead character in an action film also be the comic relief, Rogan just doesn’t have the acting chops or the physique to come off believable during the rough and tumble. Admittedly, however, his relatively svelte body image does flatter him remarkably well. Rogan’s looks notwithstanding, there are very few tense moments in The Green Hornet. Reid incessantly prattles on about how awesome something or the other they did was or how cool they looked while doing that thing. If he isn’t cracking wise then he’s bumbling around, getting his ass handed to him while Kato mops the floor with all the bad guys. The dynamic is cute, but wears thin quickly.
The filmmakers wisely prepare the audience for a comedy-heavy film from the get-go and the first act is presented remarkably well thanks to excellent writing and pitch-perfect acting on the parts of Christoph Waltz and James Franco. The exchange the two generations of bad guys have sets up a comfortably absurd tone for the film and will have audiences laughing in spite of themselves. Regrettably, the rest of the film doesn’t quite maintain that level of humor or pacing. Bits and scenes last a little too long, stretching a joke or a sequence until there’s a palpable sag in the middle of it.
There are two reasons to watch The Green Hornet. First, Christoph Waltz is exceedingly fun to watch. His Chudnofsky is an aging, urbane gangster who’s preposterously worried about public perception – going so far as to take wardrobe advice from people he’s about to kill in order to look more frightening. It’s a silly trait, but completely believable in Waltz’ hands and intimates a depth and history to his character that none of the other actors with more screen time are able to achieve. The second reason to watch this film is that it looks really good. While the style can sometimes be inconsistent, there are several creative shots that are sheer candy for the eyes. One inspired sequence starts with one camera that undergoes a cellular mitosis as a continuous shot keeps splintering until there are 16 different shots happening on screen at once.
The Green Hornet isn’t going to blow anyone away. The comedy neutralizes much of the tension, most of the characters have no charisma and scenes can drag. On the other hand, the film will also surprise many who might underestimate it. The action is good enough, there are definitely hearty laughs to be had and the visuals are stylish. These highlights keep the movie fun and worth a look – just don’t expect too much.