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The Green Hornet is the combination of a lot of things we never expected or necessarily wanted to see working together-- the writers of Superbad, the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the star of Knocked Up, and a second-tier comic book property known primarily for bringing Bruce Lee to American television. It's still unclear why exactly we need The Green Hornet again, especially in this era of superhero overload, but the movie The Green Hornet, shaggy and inconsistent as it is, makes a pretty good argument for its own existence all the same.
I saw The Green Hornet at an advance screening earlier this week, and I'm not allowed to tell you too much about it, though to get into specific details would require untangling the movie's messy script, an effort that's not really worth it. I'll tell you that the audience I saw it with-- mostly regular people, a handful of critics-- were with it the whole time, laughing consistently and engaging in all of the action scenes in exactly the way they were meant to. It's not a hard movie to get on board with-- after some strained exposition scenes establishing the character of spoiled rich boy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) and his newspaper magnate father (Tom Wilkinson) he's grown up resenting, we jump into the now-familiar origin story of a man compelled to do good in the world by donning an outfit, picking up some cool weapons, and kicking bad guy ass.
Screenwriters Rogen and Evan Goldberg proved with both Superbad and Pineapple Express that they've got a knack for writing funny, tender friendships between men, and they've done it again in all the scenes between Britt and Kato (Jay Chou), the mechanics whiz and martial arts expert Britt adopts as a sidekick. Chou acquits himself remarkably well in his first English-language role, and Rogen's natural likability shines through with Britt, a character who never quits figure out how to stop being so selfish even when he's ostensibly out fighting crime. Like any good Rogen and Goldberg movie The Green Hornet is best viewed as a platonic buddy romance, and the scenes between Britt and Kato as they play with their high-tech toys or even deal with their own issues of jealousy are the best parts of the film by far.
The good news is that Michel Gondry, coming off the underperforming but tender Be Kind Rewind, acquits himself quite well as an action director, and tosses in some trademark moments of whimsy and imagination that do a lot to augment the slack script. The story, for all its moments of inconsistent logic and tired cliches, is swift and economical, and Gondry directs with a practical eye that still leaves a little room for more inventive moments. Best of all, the comedic energy rarely flags, with Gondry trusting his actors to build their own rapport together but also hitting the beats of the jokes just right. It's not the funniest movie you'll see or the best action movie, but the hybrid works well for the most part. Even when the script feels shaky or certain emotions or plot developments unearned, the movie stays entertaining.
It was smart of Sony to hold The Green Hornet until January, a release window when there's rarely anything worth seeing out there, and when a movie that's as misshapen but endearing as The Green Hornet should be able to do well. Though I wish it were a better movie, and especially that Rogen and Goldberg had brought in someone with a better sense of action pacing to write the script, I'm rooting for The Green Hornet on behalf of everyone involved. It's not that this is their best work, but they all deserve a hit, and in it stronger moments the movie reminds us of why we liked all of these guys so much to begin with.