The Green Hornet Is the First Great Action Flick of 2011

(This review first appeared at the Mishka Bloglin, where I write under the moniker Oh Mars. For some reason.)

No one was sure what to expect when, years ago, Seth Rogen and Pineapple Express scribe Evan Goldberg wrote a script for a Green Hornet movie. It would be an action/comedy, that was the only guarantee. Then when Michel Gondry was set to direct, the blogosphere became collectively baffled. He’s a super creative, visionary director with a love of playful special effects. That’s unarguable. He delivered one of the best sci-fi movies of the decade with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. On the other hand, The Science of Sleep was way too cutesy for my taste and Be Kind Rewind sucked big time. So how did this petite Frenchman tackle a $120 million action comedy? Very, very well.

The vigilante superhero first appeared on radio serializations during the Depression and then as a short-lived TV show that ran from ’66 to ’67, featuring Bruce Lee as Kato. Since then the character has existed in a pulp niche outside of popular culture for decades – besides two comic book runs – Gondry, Rogan, and Goldberg could had creative freedom because the fanbase was relatively small. The final product is a fast-paced, hilarious, and surprisingly violent two hour movie. It definitely has its flaws but they’re seriously outweighed by everything the film does right.

Rogen plays L.A. playboy Britt Reid, the underachiever son of a newspaper mogul, played by the always amazing Tom Wilkinson. After his father mysteriously dies of a bee-sting, Reid teams up with his father’s mechanic Kato (Jay Chou) to fight crime. Not for any reason other than that Britt has been partying his life away and decides to make a difference in a corrupt world that loves superhero movies. They infiltrate the underworld by first posing as villains and exploiting the major newspaper inherited by Britt. The rigid relationship between Britt and Kato drive the best moments of the film and while Rogen plays the same character he has since Knocked Up, Chou’s Kato is easier to relate to. He’s not sure why he likes Britt – an sentiment shared by the audience, I’m sure.

All crime in L.A. is under the supervision of Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), an aging kingpin in a world of young pushers with fresh ideas. Waltz plays Chud in an excellent understated manner but he’s seriously underused to the point of being useless. He has maybe seven minutes of screen time TOPS and the Hornet is never given true motivation to pursue him besides that he’s a convenient bad guy.

Britt and Kato’s pursuit of Chud fills up several action sequences that allow Gondry to flex some big-budget creativity. Known for his on-screen FX, Gondry proves that he can construct a competent action film while still infusing his own playful flair. For Kato, Gondry frequently uses a sort of “homing” approach that has been dubbed as “KatoVision.” Kato targets one baddie, who flashes red, then another, then another. Once Kato’s plan of attack is formulated, he’s released. It’s like choosing your plan of attack in an RPG video game. There are also a ton of explosions, gatling guns, missiles, nut-shots, and Waltz packs a ridiculous double-barreled handgun.

The film’s minor characters are played by a laundry list of awesome people: James Franco, Eddie James Olmos, Edward fucking Furlong, Chad Coleman (Cutty from The Wire), and David Harbour (Quantum of Solace). The minute and a half Eddie Furlong was on screen as a meth lab supervisor is amazing. Days before the film’s premiere, he was arrested WHOOPS!

So onto the bad. Its biggest flaw is Cameron Diaz. She sucks. She always sucks and always will. I can’t even explain what use she has in the film. She never fleshes out to become a real love interest or an important character whatsoever. She serves no purpose but manages to be on screen more than Waltz. Then there’s the overuse of montages. There are three montages in the film. That’s two too many and they’re all rather long. For this movie they only needed one “building cool gadgets” montage and they would have been all set.

So go pee during the montages and get a popcorn refill when Diaz is on screen because the rest of the movie kicks ass. First great action flick of 2011!