Title: The Green Hornet
Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime
Director: Michel Gondry
Screenwriters: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz
The Green Hornet is an uneasy superhero comedy that tries to mock genre conventions while simultaneously indulging them. Its mockery is surprisingly ungentle. It doesn’t poke fun at superhero films so much as insult them, suggesting that their heroes and voillains are little more than overgrown children with self-esteem issues.
Perhaps to illustrate this point, the film is relentlessly sophomoric. This is actually kind of impressive. In form, style and content, The Green Hornet embodies a hyperactive 10-year old let loose in a toy store. Though this may seem like an interesting and even subversive line of attack, it is also the only one the movie has. Though acclaimed director Michel Gondry sets a snappy enough rhythm, and star Seth Rogen — who co-wrote the screenplay with his childhood bud Evan Goldberg — deploys his trademark dopey aggressiveness to amusing effect, the assault of silliness grows tiresome, self-reflexive or no. Especially since, on top of it all, the movie tries to ape the movies it’s spoofing.
The Green Hornet — not to be confused with Green Lantern, who is getting his own movie this summer — began life not in a comic book but on a radio series in the 1930s. Along with his valet and sidekick Kato, this particular masked avenger drove a souped-up gadget car called Black Beauty, busting up crime syndicates and sending corrupt politicos packing. His alter ego, Britt Reid, was a newspaper magnate, and The Green Hornet’s universe, like Superman’s and Spider-Man’s, held up the daily newspaper as a major force for good and ill, the conscience of a city.
This version of The Green Hornet may bear little resemblance to the character’s origins, but it sarcastically clings to this notion — that newspapers are important. Britt Reid (Rogen) is the spoiled son of a billionaire (!) newspaper publisher — a harsh but virtuous man who kept the city’s politicians honest. When the film can be bothered to focus on a storyline, it gives us a crooked District Attorney (David Harbour) who demands that the newspaper prop up his political career. The other major villain — yes, there are two, though neither has much to do — is an insecure crime boss (Inglourious Basterds‘ Christoph Waltz), who is chagrinned that his ostensibly fearsome antics don’t draw the headlines they used to. This could have been an intriguingly quaint point of view had Gondry, Rogen and Goldberg had the wherewithal to construct a world out of time to go with it. Instead, the movie approaches it as caricature — another genre staple to jab in the ribs.
This is The Green Hornet‘s approach almost across the board. Britt Reid is an incompetent manchild, reckless and beside himself with glee at every new doodad his sidekick unveils. Christoph Waltz’s Chudnofsky is a neurotic, easily wounded little boy with a violent and vindictive streak — frustrated that he can’t seem to scare anyone anymore, he changes his name to “Bloodnofsky” and gives himself an idiotic catchphrase. As a snide rebuke to superhero flick cliches, this isn’t bad. Viewed uncharitably, Batman and the Joker aren’t too far removed from Britt Reid and Bloodnofsky.
Yet though The Green Hornet shrilly mashes this same button for its entire running time, it doesn’t have the courage to double down on its buffoonery. It takes nothing seriously, but still attempts to contrive a convoluted plot and interminable action set pieces, both indifferently executed by Gondry, who is out of his element with this sort of spectacle. The result: a long, snarky, borderline disdainful parody that’s also an inferior imitation of the movies it mocks. No, thank you.