The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Green Hornet
Seth Rogen makes for an unlikely crime-fighter in The Green Hornet.

The Green Hornet is such an amalgam of different styles that it really shouldn't work. And it doesn't, except that it kind of does. What I mean is that the combination of diverse creative influences produces something a bit sloppy, yet also enjoyably unique if you're willing to go with it. Part superhero picture, part Seth Rogen buddy comedy, and part Michel Gondry head trip, The Green Hornet(in 3D, no less) is destined to either annoy or delight those who see it. I fall into the latter camp.

Rogen stars as Britt Reid, the heir to a newspaper fortune. Britt is a spoiled playboy who never had the approval of his father James (Tom Wilkinson). As a child, he tried to defend his bullied peers, but James discouraged this, believing the boy needed to learn to take more care of himself. When his father suddenly dies, Britt seeks comfort from the family mechanic, Kato (Jay Chou). They begin palling around Los Angeles together, eventually foiling a mugging. This event touches the altruistic part long buried inside of Britt, so he convinces Kato to join him in putting on masks and fighting crime. Their big plan involves pretending to be bad guys in order to get closer to criminals, but then really doing good deeds once they're on the inside.

They get a chance to ply their new trade by going after Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), a megalomaniac who is trying to take over LA's gangs in order to maximize his profits derived from crime. Armed with Black Beauty - a classic car tricked-out by Kato so that it has all kinds of useful gizmos - they get closer to the criminal and also to the not-so-surprising truth about Britt's father. Cameron Diaz is on board too, in the thankless role of Britt's secretary, Lenore Case, who unknowingly guides them in their quest to be crime-fighters. She has little to do here, making one wonder why a star of Diaz's caliber would want to play such a part.

The idea of Seth Rogen playing a "superhero" may seem a bit incongruous, but the actor (who co-wrote the screenplay with his Superbad writing partner Evan Goldberg) wraps the decades-old character/concept around his particular brand of humor. Britt Reid is not a super superhero; he's an irresponsible goofball trying to blindly find his way into some semblance of maturity, all while developing an unsteady friendship with the more-equipped-for-life-in-every-way Kato. I found that rather funny, especially since the film has some sharp one-liners and bits of comedy. An early confrontation between Chudnofsky and another criminal is particularly humorous. For a superhero film, I laughed more than I expected to.

Then Gondry steps in and puts his own spin on this already-bizarre mixture of Rogen-esque humor and superhero origin-story tradition. The director, who additionally made the trippy Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, finds visually inventive ways to stage the action scenes. One takes place totally in shadow. In another, Kato goes to jump over the hood of a car; Gondry stretches the image into infinity, so that it appears as though the character is running across the hoods of many cars. Then there's a really amazing sequence - and I have no clue how it was accomplished - in which a steady shot of a person walking breaks off into multiple simultaneous shots. One person talks to another, the screen splits in two, and we follow both of them. They talk to two other people, the screen splits again, and we follow all four of them now. This happens a few more times, until the screen is split into about twenty pieces, all of which originated from the same shot. At a time when so many superhero movies look and feel the same, it's refreshing to have a director come in and mix it up by trying new things.

There is certainly stuff to criticize in The Green Hornet. It sometimes can't make up its mind whether to be more of a comedy or more of an action film. The sole significant female role is vastly underdeveloped. The "surprise" revelation of a bad guy is a hoary cliché. Also, the movie's conversion into 3D was completely unnecessary. Only a few fight scenes - shot in what Gondry calls "Kato-vision" - are even remotely worthy of the extra dimension.

Despite these admitted flaws, I had enough fun with the film to recommend it. Rogen is funny, Chou and Waltz are charismatic, and Gondry gives the picture enough of a visually eccentric appeal to keep things lively. Best of all, The Green Hornet doesn't take itself too seriously, a fact that is most evident during the finale, in which Britt and Kato chase the bad guys through the newspaper offices while having Black Beauty perform all kinds of physically impossible tasks. I'm not sure how Michel Gondry ended up directing a Seth Rogen comedy based on a classic radio/TV character. I do know that, for me, this was one occasion where too many cooks in the kitchen actually ended up making some pretty tasty junk food.

( out of four)

The Green Hornet is rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.