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The Green Hornet

by on January 13, 2011
 

In baseball parlance, “The Green Hornet” steps to the plate with two strikes against it.

It’s got a decidedly non-matinee idol star in Seth Rogen and goes more of the spoof route than playing it straight (“Superhero Movie,” anybody?). Add in a post-convert to 3D and a January release after being pushed back, cue underwhelming box office receipts and critical evisceration, right?

Well, hold on just one moment. This “Billy Madison” meets “Kick-Ass” is indeed patently ridiculous on many levels, and is hardly creative or innovative visually, but somehow it manages to work.

“Hornet” has three things really working for it. First, Rogen (who co-wrote the screenplay) allows our hero, Britt Reid, to be a self-centered butt-nugget — the spoiled, resentful son of a father (Tom Wilkinson) too wrapped up in his career to be nurturing (Britt’s mom died when he was a child).

In a genre where being an orphan only serves to make a hero stronger, Britt has two absentee parents and grows up to be a jerk who claims all of his partner’s accomplishments as his own.

Next, it recognizes the central flaw of the original series, which is that the wrong character is recognized as the hero and plays it up. In the 1960s TV show, Bruce Lee played Kato and was relegated to second banana ostensibly because Americans couldn’t stomach an Asian first banana. As a result, Kato does all of the stunts while the Hornet gets his name on the marquee.

Finally, Christoph Waltz (who won the Oscar last year for his role in “Inglourious Basterds”) gives another wonderful performance, this time as the villain with a touch of insecurity about how menacing he is. He has a name no one can pronounce (Chudnofsky), and a wicked-cool gun with two barrels. (It occurs to me that, in actuality, it would be virtually impossible to properly use this gun as depicted in the film, but we’ll just assume he practices with it a lot.)

As an adult, Britt does what privileged rich kids are wont to do — party hearty, drink and hook up with women … until his dad dies, leaving Britt with a newspaper to run (badly), heaps of money and the responsibilities that come with it. It’s then that Britt discovers Kato, one of his father’s servants, whom Britt quickly befriends. After they inexplicably foil an assault, they decide to give crimefighting a go.

But here’s the kicker: Britt doesn’t become the Hornet as his way of righting the wrongs in the world; he does it for kicks. It’s fun, he gets to beat up some crack dealers (along with his borderline super-powered martial-arts expert of a sidekick) and he gets to feel like he’s sticking it to his pops, who angrily broke Britt’s superhero action figure when he was a kid (a sequence that, by the way, drew the ire of my own son, who attended the screening with me).

The film’s main plot involves corruption within the city, but honestly, you won’t have much trouble getting up to speed there. It’s the interplay between Britt and Kato that is most important, even as their rivalry for the affections of Lenore (Cameron Diaz; yes that Cameron Diaz) becomes more and more ridiculous.

Sequences that score include Kato introducing Britt to his “gas gun” (drawing bruised-ego questions from Britt as to why Kato doesn’t get a gun as well) that has a tremendous punchline and a sequence where Kato updates his resume as he’s angry at his employer.

Oh, and any time Waltz is on screen, he replicates the slow boil he did in “Basterds,” albeit in a quicker, funnier fashion, and there are a couple of nice cameos from James Franco and Edward Furlong.

The action is honestly a little muddy, though it’s capped off by a great chase sequence in the film’s climax that sees the Hornet’s car Black Beauty in an elevator inside a building.

By all rights, “Hornet” should have been a disaster, and judging by the reviews this will be a love-it or hate-it affair. I just happen to fall in the former camp.