The Green Hornet
Remakes. Reimaginings, retreads, reboots… the cinematic landscape is lousy with them. They’re all the rage, dropping off the Hollywood conveyor belt with the regularity of a Mel Gibson meltdown, although they are usually less entertaining to watch. And so, as the lights go down and you realise you’ve done it again and finished your popcorn before the bleedin’ thing has even started, it will be comforting to know that, instead of some plodding Beverly Hills rent-a-hack, you are in the directorial hands of French oddball Michel Gondry – and that he has been attached to the project since way back in 1997.
Since then a variety of writers and stars have been attached and discarded until two birds were killed with one stone in the unlikely form of Seth Rogen, who plays the title character and co-wrote the script along with long-time collaborator Evan Goldberg. Their Hornet plays to Rogen’s strengths, a layabout schlub who, as alter-ego Britt Reid, has little time for much other than partying and plunging his newspaper magnate father (Tom Wilkinson) into perpetual disappointment. However, his father’s death leads him to strike up an alliance with the gadgetry-proficient, ass-whupping Kato (played by Jay Chou, stepping into none other than Bruce Lee’s shoes), a kind of Robin and Alfred combined (he also serves a mean cup of coffee), and the pair hit the streets in order to blow up meth labs and such. This kind of thing will surely only displease crime boss Chudnofksy (an underused and underdeveloped Chris Waltz) who, sure enough, soon seeks to put some hurting on them.
The Green Hornet was never going to reinvent the wheel, story-wise. Much of the focus instead is on seeing Rogen take on an action role for the first time, and Gondry and the writers wisely play that aspect for laughs. Though the slimmer frame he first sported in Funny People means he doesn’t look quite as ridiculous in his crime-fighting getup as he might, it would still be an unholy stretch to have him chopping socky like it ain’t no thing. He’s no liability – there are a few wild roundhouses and tactically astute knees to the groin that get the job done – but the real pyrotechnics are provided by Chou and Gondry. The most intriguing aspect going into this was how the French surrealist would fare turning his hand to fight scenes and car chases and he doesn’t disappoint. Imbuing the sequences with his trademark visual irreverence, he nonetheless never forgets that, hey, this is an action movie, and he never shies away from delivering the big bangs. The first time we see Kato spring into action is the film’s defining moment and will go down as one of the action scenes of 2011.
Gondry’s (somewhat) surprising action chops and other bravura moments aside (a split-screen montage of a hit being put out on the Hornet is particularly good fun), the film does have its creakier moments. Cameron Diaz and, in particular, the excellent Waltz are peripheral, which serves only to magnify the hit-and-miss nature of Rogen and Chou’s comic chemistry, but Gondry just about manages to hold the whole thing together. Leave your cynicism at the door, ignore the Rogen backlash currently doing the rounds, and you’ll find yourself with a big goofy grin on your face as you wallow in the silliness of it all. I like that in a movie.