The Green Hornet

When small children lay their head on the pillow each night, do they dream of running into a phone booth to change into Seth Rogen?
A more popular figure in raunchy comedies than little boys’ daydreams, Rogen is one of the least-likely Hollywood stars to play a superhero. Nevertheless, that’s what we get in “The Green Hornet,” played by Rogen as his typical directionless man-child. Accompanied by his mechanic/martial arts expert Kato, his archenemy isn’t so much the bad guy as maturity. At least we’re talking about the only superhero that drives a Chrysler.

In fairness, the Green Hornet might be a good fit. He has always been an imitation superhero living in the shadow of more popular zillionaire superheroes like Batman and Iron Man. The film’s plot contains the same father issues with the same idea of crimefighting as philanthropy. Yet you sense the shoddiness of the imitation, and the crimefighting seems more like a prank that got out of hand.

The mostly forgotten Sixties camp television show is remembered for one thing: it launched the career of martial arts superstar Bruce Lee, also known as, Kato the martial arts sidekick. Thus the film has plenty of slow-motion martial arts moves. Played here by Jay Chou, the character’s subservience to his white master doesn’t fit well in the modern day.

“The Green Hornet” is directed by frequent Charlie Kaufman director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) and it is therefore best when it is weird. The problem is that Gondry has delivered a mostly by-the-book action-comedy that superhero fans would expect. The other notable thing is the first post-Basterds appearance of Christoph Waltz. A veteran bad guy of German movies, it rather kills the mystique of an Oscar to think it only buys you better opportunities to play better-paid bad guys in American movies.

“The Green Hornet” is the latest comic book hero to run into the perils of modern Hollywood casting. Having come to a point of popularity with comic book heroes, Hollywood finds itself with a generation of Peter Parkers rather than Supermans. You can play this shortage for comedy for a while. However, eventually it turns a superhero into just a man in a mask (now out on DVD)

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