Even if you’ve never seen a single one of his films, I’m willing to bet you know who Bruce Lee is. A martial arts master and action movie superstar, he was tragically killed on set in what is technically labelled an accident. His style and presence have informed everything from the main character of Cowboy Bebop to the likes of action-movie successors Kill Bill and The Matrix. Bruce Lee was first introduced to the world in The Green Hornet, a TV series of one season that was inspired by a radio serial of the same name. A modern movie has finally been made of it, and if nothing else, I think Bruce would be proud of his successor.
The movie opens with Britt Reid, son of the owner of a crusading Los Angeles newspaper, generally being an irresponsible and obnoxious brat, even when he’s a grown man. The senior Reid is killed and Britt is left his media empire. Britt discovers his father employed a wickedly talented mechanic named Kato, and together the two of them act out a bit against the deceased’s somewhat caustic behavior. In the course of doing so they foil a mugging. Feeling a sense of accomplishment for the first time, the duo decide to continue this pursuit of vigilante justice, but in the guise of villains claiming their own turf. Britt uses the newspaper to sensationalize the events, and it’s the press that call him the Green Hornet.
The film was co-written by one of its stars, Seth Rogen, giving Britt the sort of bumbling, in-your-face humor that’s mostly defined his career. He’s written to be an arrogant, selfish and glory-seeking egomaniac on a power trip. He geeks out at the drop of a hat, isn’t very good at concealing his secret identity and only scores with the ladies because he’s got a pile of cash. And this is how he acts for most of the movie. It’s only after innocent people are killed just for wearing green that he starts to take some responsibility. In other words, he spends the last 20 minutes or so on the character development that Iron Man spent the entire film building, and the slap-dash nature of it shows. It’s hard to care about our hero when we don’t really like the guy very much.
One of the few shots where Britt doesn’t look or act like a bell-end.
On top of that, we have a rich Caucasian man taking all the glory and credit for the goings-on while his minority partner does all of the work. In the original radio serial, Kato was merely the Green Hornet’s driver. It was Bruce Lee that expanded the role to ass-kicking partner. Taiwanese singer Jay Chou plays Kato as something of a drifter looking for his place who finally finds it in fighting crime, but the fact remains that he is building the cars, gadgets and legend of the Green Hornet as well as doing most of the heavy lifting in fights, while his rich white douchebag of a boss is getting all the attention. This does come up in the movie, and it’s certainly a more legitimate basis for the two to bicker and fight than the affections of Cameron Diaz.
Don’t get me wrong, Diaz does a fine job and her character actually helps the guys more than she knows, but the subplot of Britt and Kato vying for her affection goes absolutely nowhere and serves no purpose other than to drive an artificial wedge between the two of them and extend the running time. This is time that could have been spent making Britt more sympathetic, like trying to learn some of Kato’s moves on his own or in showing more appreciation for Kato instead of marginalizing the poor guy in any variety of social situations. I think Seth saw Iron Man and how Tony Stark acted, especially around Pepper Potts, and tried to splice that directly into this flick. However, Tony Stark has a gradual and well-paced character arc, a real charismatic presence, some truly funny moments as he develops himself and treats Pepper with respect and courtesy. Britt Reid, on the other hand, treats nobody with respect, tosses money around in place of showing any sort of humility and is really more the butt of a joke than he is a superhero.
This kind of sums it up. Britt looks confused, and Kato looks badass.
Admittedly, the movie is on the funnier side of things and isn’t taking itself too seriously. There’s also the fact that Christoph Waltz is clearly enjoying his turn as the affable crime boss Chudnofsky, and Tom Wilkinson and Edward James Olmos provide some much-needed maturity to counter-balance Seth Rogen’s unashamedly juvenile behavior. The fact that Britt is the least competent person around is kind of the point of The Green Hornet, and this keen self-awareness is one of the things the movie has going for it. We are shown the potential of Britt and we want to see it used well even if we have to kick the jerk’s ass ourselves, and it’s gratifying when it finally does happen. It just happens too late to have any real significance. Instead we see Britt being a dick to just about everybody, and him and Kato behaving like partners in far more than the crime-fighting sense.
In the end, The Green Hornet is relatively harmless. It’s light-heartedness means it doesn’t touch the depths of X-Men the Last Stand and it plays a lot more like a groovier and lighter play on Sam Raimi’s Darkman. A lot of Britt’s personality and motivations are lifted from other superhero movies, and Chudnofsky feels more like a gang boss from the gritty but hysterical London of Snatch or quite a few of Tarantino’s movies, which don’t quite mesh together perfectly, especially when you add the notion of one of the nation’s last truly independent newspapers, or the mere presence of the hyper-competent and infinitely-cooler-than-his-boss Kato. It’s a bit of a mish-mash, but because it’s having so much fun just hanging out with you and showing off, it’s hard for me to give a blanket ‘Skip It’ recommendation for The Green Hornet. If you can grok that Britt is supposed to be an asshole and get past the unfortunate implications of his treatment of Kato, and everybody else to a lesser degree, you might just catch yourself having a good time. It might also make you really thirsty for a well-made cappuccino, but that could just be my lack of breakfast talking.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.