Action flick? Or comedy?

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, January 14, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

The Green Hornet is getting old. Born in the 1930s as a radio serial, the character has bounced around comic books and a short-lived 1960s TV show in the years since.

It’s understandable that Seth Rogen and the makers of the new would-be blockbuster based on this character would want to inject a little youth serum into the bloodstream. Re-thinking “Spider-Man” and “Iron Man” worked like crazy; why shouldn’t the same thing happen here?

Let’s begin sifting through the reasons. Seth Rogen wrote “The Green Hornet” with his “Superbad” co-author, Evan Goldberg, and plays the title role.

This suggests the property is going to take on a comedy overtone, as indeed it does.

It’s an origin story, so we meet pampered Britt Reid (Rogen), son of a millionaire newspaper publisher (Tom Wilkinson), as Reid must confront his father’s death and work out a friendship with his father’s do-everything genius servant, Kato (Jay Chou, Taiwan-born pop star).

The motivation for Reid and Kato adopting masks and disguises and turning themselves into crime-fighters is very 21st-century: it’s not so much from a sense of duty or justice, but because it feels really cool.

Goofy male bonding is one of Rogen’s trademarks, so the Green Hornet and Kato come across as a couple of superbad musketeers, cooing over their awesome car (now and always known as Black Beauty) and complimenting each other on looking “pimp.” Cameron Diaz, hired as a Girl Friday, is off-limits to both guys, not least because she is, like, really old: 36, by her own admission.

The film’s best villainy is supplied by Christoph Waltz, the Oscar-winning actor from “Inglourious Basterds,” who opens the movie with a rip-snorting action scene. Waltz has an antic presence that makes him enormous fun in the role, especially as he remains concerned with how he can instill fear in his opponents (he immediately grasps the Green Hornet’s talent for color-coding).

“The Green Hornet” is directed by Michel Gondry, the mad tinkerer of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Be Kind Rewind.” Gondry is so imaginative you keep wanting him to bust out and get crazy with this movie’s toy box, but it only rarely happens. (Although I did enjoy the car getting sawed in half and continuing to drive along.”Front-wheel drive,” explains Kato).

It’s sort of amusing that Kato, the former manservant, is now Britt Reid’s equal, and clearly his intellectual superior. But the overall blend of action and comedy is a tricky one, and after a promising first half-hour, the movie flounders in search of a tone.

It took 75 years for somebody to make a proper feature film of “The Green Hornet.” This one’s not a disaster, but it may be a while before another one comes along.

“The Green Hornet”

The crime-fighting hero falls into the hands of star and co-writer Seth Rogen, who — not surprisingly — emphasizes the comedy aspects of the material. Here, the Green Hornet and his sidekick Kato (Jay Chou) do a lot of male bonding and tell each other how superbad they are. Christoph Waltz is fun as the main villain, but after a promising opening the movie can’t strike a right balance between humor and action.

Rating: PG-13, for violence

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Evereett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Olympic, Stanwood, Cinerama, Meridian, Neptune, Throton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

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