To say that production on The Green Hornet has been “troubled” would be more than a bit of an understatement. The film has been in development since the Bush administration…the first Bush administration. It has had numerous “name actors” attached to play the titular hero (George Clooney, Greg Kinnear, Mark Wahlberg, Jake Gyllenhaal) and his steadfast sidekick (Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee, Stephen Chow). It’s moved from studio to studio and gone through multiple directors. Even the version that finally reached screens faced challenges; replacing both its original director and original Kato on the fly. Compounding problems was the film’s release date being moved from June 26 to July 9 to December 22 and, finally, to the notorious movie dumping ground called “January”. So, with the deck stacked firmly against it, the movie turns out to be quite a pleasant surprise.
Seth Rogen plays Britt Reid (aka The Green Hornet), a trust fund playboy suckling at the teat of his family’s media empire when his father’s untimely demise forces him to assume control of the business. Left to his own devices, Reid quickly forms a bond with Kato (Jay Chou), his father’s personal mechanic. When the two accidentally stop a robbery, Reid discovers Kato’s natural gift for violence and decides that two should wage a war on crime. The film not only stars Rogen but is also written by him and his writing partner Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express, Superbad). The two smartly jettison the tone of previous incarnations of The Green Hornet. Acutely aware of the fact that Rogen has been cast against type they simply change the “type”, shrewdly re-imagining Reid as a bumbling, narcissistic gadfly who is woefully ill prepared to embark on this adventure. Instead, it is Kato who is both the brains and brawn of this pair. It’s yet another wise move which moves the character beyond the racial stereotype/man-servant that the character is so often reduced to.
The film lives and dies with Rogen and your enjoyment of it will depend largely on your opinion of him. His performance here amounts to nothing more than a slightly more family-friendly version of his typical droll yet caustic riffing. For the most part, the jokes work without feeling grafted on to a preexisting screenplay (presumably because they weren’t). More importantly, the humor fits this new version of Britt Reid and never comes at the expense of the film. It is still an action film and manages to do both quite nicely. Director Michel Gondry stages some fun action set-pieces and Rogen and crew manage to keep the jokes flying in the process.
With a running time of close to 2-hours, the film is probably about 10-minutes longer than it needs to be. Of course Rogen did graduate from the Judd Apatow school of filmmaking and, while Apatow has been responsible for some of the best comedies of the last 10 years, let’s just say pruning a film isn’t always his strong suit. And the film benefits greatly from its release date. Stacked up against high-octane, summer blockbuster fare like Iron Man 2 and Inception, I think The Green Hornet would have felt slight in comparison. But in January, it plays quite nicely.