Anyone here remember Van Williams?
He was the star of the 1966-67 television series, “The Green Hornet.” But the only thing anyone remembers about the show today was the actor who played the title character’s martial arts and automotive expert sidekick, Kato: Bruce Lee. The tradition continues with this new film. Jay Chou (“Curse of the Golden Flower”) has the screen charisma, timing, and fight skills to make Kato watchable. That guy who plays the Hornet? Not so much.
In fact, the three things wrong with this movie are: Seth Rogen co-produced, Seth Rogen co-wrote, and Seth Rogen stars. Seth Rogen the co-producer and writer badly over-estimates the appeal of Rogen the performer. When called upon to play a clueless schlub, he can convey a certain shambling lack of pretension or artifice with some appeal. He was perfect as the brainless jello character in “Monsters vs. Aliens” and held his own fairly well as a secondary character in “Funny People,” “Superbad,” and “Knocked Up.” He may have some meta aspirations in casting himself as a self-indulgent and irresponsible playboy who decides to become a force for justice. But he doesn’t even make a persuasive dissolute. When he tries to do more, he loses all of the affection from the audience he ever mustered in playing guys who were better than they knew. Here is is so much less than his character believes to be and is supposed to be, he comes across as full of himself and egotistical; it’s as though his success in Hollywood and his hyphenate status have finally gone to his head. And even though he apparently recognizes his limited range by reducing the character arc to about an inch and a half; even after Britt decides to become a sort-of grown-up and a sort-of crime-fighter, Rogen the writer and Rogen the actor keep him pretty much an immature dope all the way through. It wears thin long before the movie is half over.
It also drags down the parts of the film that do work, especially Chou, whose precise, understated delivery is a nice counterpoint to Rogen’s messy stumbles. Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Be Kind, Rewind”) has a gift for whimsy that adds visual interest. An impossibly souped-up supercar has an old-fashioned turntable for playing disarmingly retro LPs. He slices up the screen into segments resembling something between “The Thomas Crown Affair,” the opening credits of “The Brady Bunch,” and that Breck shampoo commercial about “and they they told two people and they told two people.” And he makes good use of the depth of 3D in the fight scenes. We get Kato-vision to see how he sizes up the opposition, with a clever variation later on. Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”) manages to make more of the villain than the script gives him and there’s a nice cameo from the ubiquitous James Franco (giving us time to think that he would make a great Hornet).
Rogen is falling into the Adam Sandler/Peter Pan trap, the endless boy-man, alternately wolfish toward and intimidated by girls (Cameron Diaz has the thankless role) and incapable of taking responsibility at home or at work. At one point, Kato literally puts him in a diaper. The only reason to give the audience such a mess is so we can have the fun of seeing him learn some lessons. But he never does. This is a hornet that’s all buzz, no sting.
Parents should know that this movie includes a great deal of comic-book fantasy violence with many characters injured and killed, brief graphic images, death of a parent, drinking, drug dealers, sexual references and non-explicit situation, very strong language for a PG-13.
Family discussion: How does this film differ from other superhero movies? Why does Britt change his mind about his father at the end of the film?
If you like this, try: the “Green Hornet” television series starring Bruce Lee