Review: The Great and Terrible ‘Green Hornet’

By  · Published on January 13th, 2011

The thing about broccoli is that it’s disgusting at first. When you’re a child, your young taste buds only want sugar and chocolate and that meatloaf that only your mom can make. Often you want all of these things at the same time.

But as you get older, your taste matures and you suddenly find yourself with dozens of recipes that make broccoli a completely worthwhile vegetable that’s welcome on any plate. Hell, sometimes it even surprises you – blowing your taste buds away in a flavor explosion.

The Green Hornet is cinematic broccoli.

Seth Rogen dons the domino mask to play Britt Reid – a responsibility-hating young rich kid whose father busted his hump to build a respectable news paper into a media machine. When said father (Tom Wilkinson) mysteriously dies, Britt is left with a butler named Kato (Jay Chou) who makes a killer cop of coffee, but can’t fill the void in Britt’s rudderless life. However, he can add guns to the family vehicle and head out into the night at Britt’s side to fight crime.

Back to the broccoli – The Green Hornet is a mess in the beginning. The acting is stiff, even from veteran Tom Wilkinson, and the story is a bit muddled. Reid isn’t a likable character, which is fine, but the first half of the film mirrors his quarter-life crisis a bit too closely. Director Michel Gondry put together a chore of a first act to watch – one that features scenes from a barely-important childhood moment, an extended get-to-know-you session with Britt that includes a lot of false-fun partying, a long introduction to a very strange villain, and an awkward first couple of encounters with Kato that act as filler before getting to the action.

Fortunately, the action kicks in, and the world is right again. The movie delivers the sugar, the chocolate, and your mom’s meatloaf all at the same time. Then it shoves a stick of dynamite into the mush, tosses it into the back seat of a ridiculously expensive car, and drives it high speed into the side of a building filled with gasoline and whoopie cushions.

The second half of the film – once The Green Hornet is born – keeps paces with the best action movies out there. The explosions and fight scenes come rapid fire, the internal tension between an inactive hero and his butt-kicking sidekick grows to a fever pitch, and the climactic battle incurs a ton of property damage.

The Green Hornet is a different type of super hero, and Rogen does a strong job of being filled with passion while having nothing to focus it on. Even as he becomes the crime fighter, Britt Reid is still always unsure of himself and what his role in the team is. Kato (played perfectly by Jay Chou), on the other hand, is a genius that can slow down time mentally in order to fight gangs of armed men by himself, yet he’s under-appreciated, and the severity of that begins to wear at him.

It’s in those slow-mo sequences that Gondry actually stands out as the creative innovator he’s known for being. The rest of the movie (minus the last act) could have been directed by Brett Ratner, and the world would never be the wiser. It’s an average film in that way, one without a director’s stamp, which is sad considering the possibilities that lay at Gondry’s feet.

The only other thing that ties the movie to his direction, is just how absolutely absurd it is. Essentially, it’s a story of a man who can’t fight crime, hitting the streets to fight crime. It’s Kick-Ass with a driver’s license and a trust fund.

That’s a good thing. Even with a clunky first half, the movie saves itself and earns several laughs and jaw drops from the great chemistry that evolves between Rogen and Chou and the kind of physical damage that’s inflicted on the bad guys.

As if echoing the bi-polar nature of the production, the cast also features a true stand out and a complete waste. The stand out is Christoph Waltz who plays the most honestly meglomaniacal, self-aware villain seen in this era of super hero movies. He’s impossibly strict, gruff, and deadly, but he also seems plagued by self-doubt and the need to find himself a cool nickname. Waltz’s dry delivery is ever-present and always funny – even when he’s having a nervous breakdown (something every good villain should have).

The waste is Cameron Diaz. Not only is her character not given anything real to do (she’s the human equivalent of Google here), but she doesn’t show up to perform at all. She drains the life out of the scenes she’s in and derails the pace completely.

Over all, the two halves of the whole average out to be a fun movie with an equal amount of moments to complain about as there are moments to cheer and continue laughing about in the parking lot.

In short, it’s cinematic broccoli. It tastes terrible at first, but as Gondry and company get more seasonings (and a decent amount of cheese), it ends up being shockingly satisfying.

The Upside: A second half that’s lean, features a ton of action, and takes the characters (and the violence) in some unexpected directions.

The Downside: It has trouble getting going, and then plops Cameron Diaz right down in the middle of things when the momentum starts to build.

On the Side: Broccoli has been proven to help prevent heart disease. The Green Hornet has not (and is not yet FDA approved).

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.