The Green Hornet doesn’t kick ass — he is an ass. The life of a masked crime fighter isn’t the chick-magnet he thought it would be. The smart, capable gal he’s after wants nothing to do with him. And his sidekick is the one with all the mojo, anyway. Best he can do is stand around watching everyone else do the hard work while he makes wisecracks ... which no one laughs at.
But that’s the film’s charm. In this aggressively goofy spoof of the modern vigilante drama, Seth Rogen and madcap French director Michel Gondry run in the opposite direction of Christopher Nolan’s Batman. They re-invent the hero of the grim, 1930s radio show with cartoonish, chaotic energy and sly self-effacement.
In the film, spoiled L.A. playboy Britt Reid becomes the sudden heir to Daddy’s media empire and decides to put his resources to use as a superhero. Problem is: Reid, as played by Rogen, is really an obnoxious idiot.
What’s most intriguing about this spin on the masked-avenger story is how Rogen, who not only stars as Reid but co-wrote the script with Evan Goldberg, doesn’t let his character get away with being an overgrown adolescent. Reid’s incompetence as a superhero is rewarded with physical beatings. His stupidity is underscored by the genius of his sidekick, Kato (Jay Chou). And his imagined savoir-faire is belittled by his secretary, Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) — the real brains behind Reid’s vigilante hobby.
The one thing Reid is actually good at is making the cops and the media believe he’s a criminal. The idea here is that if the bad guys running L.A. — particularly crime boss Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) — don’t realize he’s actually out to get them, they’ll never take innocent people hostage the way villains always do when they need to tweak a caped crusader. But Reid still has to borrow Lenore’s expertise on criminal behavior to plan his adventures. And he relies on Kato to do most of the hard work. (Chou’s twist on the sidekick archetype is deadpan-hilarious.)
But our hero isn’t the only who gets sent up here.
James Franco snarks his way through a cameo in which his wannabe criminal overlord confronts Chudnofsky, lending the latter an air of insecurity that we’re not used to seeing in comic-book villains. (He may want to take over the world, but he’s still clearly dealing with some personal issues.)
That’s not the film’s only meta-commentary. The homoerotic subtext that tends to dog stories about two guys who wear masks and get physical together becomes an overt running joke here. And there’s an interesting PR angle that drives the plot and fuels the humor: In a media-saturated world, heroes and villains alike are forced to market themselves.
Much of the action, which is often muddled and frequently ridiculous (cars fall on people a lot), could have been deleted. But if the action is out-clevered by the comedy in this slam-bang film, it’s a small price to pay for some of the most satisfying superhero yucks we’ve had in a long while.