SCREEN TIME: ‘The Green Hornet’ makes comedic hero work

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, January 29, 2011

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of a superhero movie that featured Seth Rogen, known for his roles in “Knocked Up,” “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express,” as the good guy crime fighter.

And the 2011 film version of “The Green Hornet” is certainly a different take on the recent superhero genre, with most film adaptations favoring dark, epic tales of the lighter, campier television or comic book originals.

While that surely doesn’t describe this film, director Michel Gondry’s “Hornet” shows well-placed comedy and adventure work and is actually a welcomed change of pace.

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Rogen, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Evan Goldberg, pulls off the role of a hapless hero well, as The Hornet stumbles his way past villains thanks to his talented partner Kato (Asian pop singer Jay Chou), a martial arts expert who appears to have some sort of superpowers (although that’s never really explained).

This unusual hero-sidekick relationship adds another humorous slant, and helps make sense of The Hornet’s uninspiring origin.

After Britt Reid’s millionaire father, James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), dies from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, the son is left in charge of his father’s independent Los Angeles newspaper, The Daily Sentinel.

But after meeting Kato, who was his father’s mechanic and coffee maker, the duo instead decide to fight crime as masked vigilantes in their supercar, the “Black Beauty,” and use Reid’s position at The Sentinel to raise The Green Hornet’s profile. “The Green Hornet” looks like a straight-forward superhero action/comedy, but there is a bit more to it than that.

Chou isn’t Bruce Lee (who played Kato in the TV series), but he is a convincing straight man, who is still able to rock out to Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” in a scene leading up to a montage of ultimate crime fighting by The Hornet and Kato.

Meanwhile bad guy Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), who is worried about whether or not others find him intimidating, is infuriated by the attention The Hornet is garnering, and sets out to kill the masked crime fighter.

Waltz subtly spoofs the role of a super villain, and his opening scene with James Franco as up-and-coming mobster Danny “Crystal” Clear is hilarious, as the two quarrel over what makes a gangster “cool.”

The film subtly — and intentionally — retains some of the politically incorrectness present in the original 1930s radio program and 1966-67 television series, humorously using it as part of Reid’s chauvinistic character, as his advances are thwarted by his competent assistant Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz).

A running time of 119 minutes is pushing it for a comedy — it does begin to drag on a tad — and the use of 3D is a bit puzzling as it really adds nothing, but “The Hornet” still shows super heroes don’t have to be super serious.

Herald Audience Manager Adam Harringa’s column appears every Sunday.