Wednesday, January 19, 2011


“The Green Hornet” (***1/2 out of ****) isn't just another jaded crime fighter movie. Those dreadful movies include “The Shadow” (1994), “The Phantom” (1996), and “The Spirit” (2008). Actually, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” director Michel Gondry and co-scenarists Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have done a commendable job with their revival of this long dormant franchise. This cinematic reboot remains largely faithful to “The Green Hornet” radio series of the 1930s. Nevertheless, Rogen and Goldberg have taken marginal liberties with their adaptation. Our misunderstood protagonist endures an abusive father and fritters away his life as a party animal until he awakens to his true potential. The cars that our heroes cruise around in pay tribute to the 1966 ABC-TV series more than the two 1940s era cliffhanger serials, "The Green Hornet" (1940) with Gordon Jones and "The Green Hornet Strikes Again" (1940) with Warren Hull. Although the radio series occurred in Chicago, the film takes place in Los Angeles where the Reid family owned newspaper "The Daily Sentinel" is published. Meantime, the people who made the new “Green Hornet” ridicule the clich├ęs and conventions of the crime fighter film genre and refrain from making the action appear hopelessly outlandish. Not only does the film examine the essence of villainy, but it also insists that wardrobe does not a villain make. Basically, “The Green Hornet” unfolds as an origins epic. Gondry and his writers ensure that the protagonists make a realistic transition from ordinary to extraordinary. Our heroes spend at least half of the action battling each other over their respective roles as hero and sidekick when they aren’t clashing with a lethal villain who will stop at nothing to ice them. 

“The Green Hornet” opens as young Brett Reid is escorted to his father’s newspaper office at “The Daily Sentinel.” James Reid (Tom Wilkinson of “Rush Hour”) berates his elementary school age son for being expelled for fighting. Sure, Brett’s father understands life is tough for his son. After all, Brett has no mother. Brett argues he was trying to thwart some bullies. James tears the head off his son’s superhero action figure and trashes it. Brett never forgives him for this act of cruelty. Twenty years elapse, and Brett turns into a no-holds-barred, thrill-seeking party animal until his father drops dead from an allergic reaction to a bee sting. Of course, there is more here than meets the eye. Anyway, public officials flock to James’ funeral and erect a statue in his honor. 

Meanwhile, Brett still smolders with resentment toward his father. Along the way, Brett has grown accustomed to his morning coffee. When he discovers his coffee doesn’t taste as delicious anymore, he starts screaming and learns that he fired the man who made it. Brett is surprised when he meets Kato (Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou) and the two guys bond. Kato is a chauffeur/inventor. He maintained James Reid's fleet of automobiles. Moreover, he rebuilt James’ cars and incorporated bullet-proof glass in the windshields and armored plated the vehicles against gunfire. Neither really liked Reid. Brett convinces Kato to join him for a late night prank. Brett decapitates his father’s statue. As he is lugging the head away, our protagonist tries to intervene when thugs attack an innocent couple. Kato arrives in the nick of time to save Brett and demonstrate his superb martial arts skills. A surveillance camera captures Brett stealing the statue head, and he appropriates this opportunity to introduce Los Angeles to its newest nemesis.

Chudnofsky (Oscar winner Christopher Waltz of “Inglourious Basterds”) is the most dangerous criminal in Los Angeles. You either join Chudnofsky or die. An ambitious crystal meth dealer, Danny Cleere (James Franco of “Spider-Man”), berates Chudnofsky for his old-school apparel and advises him to retire. Not surprisingly, Chudnofsky wipes out Cleere and company with a devastating double-barreled automatic pistol. Meantime, Brett uses “The Daily Sentinel” to propel his mysterious alter-ego to heights of notoriety. Unfortunately, Brett realizes almost too late that he doesn’t have a clue about fighting crime. He relies on his savvy newspaper secretary, Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz of “Knight and Day”), who has a college degree in journalism and criminology. As he watches the Green Hornet’s ascent to prominence, Chudnofsky calls for a meeting. The first encounter between Chudnofsky and the Hornet is pretty spectacular. Meantime, when Brett isn’t matching wits with Chudnofsky, he tangles with District Attorney Scanlon ( David Harbour of “Quantum of Solace”) who wants him to halt his news coverage about escalating crime. Scanlon is campaigning for re-election, and “The Daily Sentinel” is undermining his claims that Los Angeles crime is under control.

As a crime fighter, “The Green Hornet” resembles "Batman" and Bruce Wayne. James Reid was a newspaper tycoon, and Brett appropriates his father’s millions to pay for his exotic Green Hornet regalia and hardware. At the same time, Brett is like Zorro because he dons his emerald mask when he isn’t at the office. Of course, the chief difference between “The Green Hornet” and most crime fighters is that he behaves like a villain so criminals cannot take advantage of his virtue. In a sense, the Green Hornet emerges as an anti-heroic hero who fights for justice. Rogen and Goldberg never miss a moment to mock the crime fighter formula. What makes “The Green Hornet” doubly entertaining is that our heroes must learn the ropes of crime fighting as they are dodging lead. As they learn from their stupid mistakes, they acquire greater polish. Half of their success comes from ‘the Black Beauty.' Kato has tricked out a jet-black Chrysler Imperial so it amounts to a rolling arsenal with hood-mounted machine guns, a flame thrower, and rockets.

For the record, George W. Trendle and Fran Striker created “The Green Hornet” on January 31, 1936, at Detroit radio station WXYZ-AM. Comparatively, artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger created “Batman” about three years later in 1939. Seth Rogen makes a sympathetic hero and Christopher Waltz is a terrific villain. Altogether, “The Green Hornet” qualifies as an above-average reboot of a classic crime fighter with a stimulating car chase and some memorable confrontations.