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Wait for the Cable Release:

The Green Hornet
Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz

MIXED BAG: “The Green Hornet,” featuring sub-par actors, might be worth 90 minutes of your time—on cable. Courtesy photos.

movie stars

The third dimension is dead—or at this point in time, it has been rendered completely ineffective. 3D has always been a gimmick, and up until now, there has been a big enough gap between releases with the words “in 3D” to not become a headache-inducing nightmare. That changed over the holiday season. Sure, there were films that used the 3D technology spectacularly, most notably “Tron: Legacy.” But, lately, it seems like the third-dimensional moniker is more likely to appear in a half-assed animated film or a whole-assed Jack Black comedy.

“The Green Hornet” is a great example of the third dimension as a crutch. It’s an enjoyable action comedy, a disposable romp with some satirical twists on the superhero film. Still, there is absolutely no reason this film needed to be released in 3D. Not one moment benefits from the depth-perception morphing action. It’s nothing more than an average “B” movie. Inherently, there’s nothing wrong with that. Adding the 3D feels like taking a busted-up car, putting on a pair of really expensive rims and hoping that no one will notice the rust.

My attraction to “The Green Hornet” comes from the creative minds behind the film. The original setup feels tired: a crime-fighting vigilante based on classic radio serials that are barely remembered. If not for a 1960’s television series that introduced the world to Bruce Lee, the entire emaciated premise may have been all but forgotten.

Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is the son of a media magnate (Tom Wilkinson), prone to spend his free time drinking and causing a ruckus. Like all irresponsible louts, there is friction with his more socially conscious father. Britt is forced to deal with these issues head on after his father passes away. Enter Kato (Jay Chou), an employee of Britt’s father, who also happens to be good with his hands. His skills as a mechanic and engineer are only matched by his skills in the ancient form of ass-kicking. Britt sees an opportunity. With the city descending into a gang war, he decides to create an alter-ego using Kato as his right-hand man. Britt uses his father’s newspaper to help sell the identity of a new “villain,” The Green Hornet, and uses his wealth to fund a lot of nifty weapons and gadgets. Kato does the rest.

What I like about “The Green Hornet” is the way it distorts the superhero genre. At the core of the movie is a buddy comedy. There were a dozen ways this story could have been done. Choosing the subtle comedic approach is the right one. Getting Michael Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) to direct seems to be another smart choice. There have been a number of absurdist superhero films lately. “The Green Hornet” doesn’t devolve into outright parody but wonderfully skews the basic superhero premise.

I’m still tiring of Seth Rogen. His presence here doesn’t help or hurt the film. He makes an ideal spoiled dick, and most of the film’s laughs come from watching the bumbling doofus take credit for Kato’s accomplishments. The less-than-dynamic duo are forced to deal with an expressionless crime lord named Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz). Some folks may remember Waltz from his Oscar-winning performance as Colonel Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s epic WWII flick, “Inglourious Basterds.” Sometimes an actor has a part so iconic that it’s difficult to accept them in another part. Not only is this the case with “The Green Hornet,” it very well may be the most salient example ever.

The intended goal is to make the character of Chudnofsky menacing with a hint of comic zeal. They give Chudnofsky a basic gimmick: He’s a creepy killer who isn’t taken seriously because of his dry personality. Waltz spends the rest of the movie beating this tired idea to death. He’s a fantastic actor in a worthless role. The breakout star here is Jay Chou. He’s got buckets of charisma and would make an exceptional action star.

Like all B movies, I grade on a curve. “The Green Hornet” is not an exceptional film, even with the added benefit of “the curve.” However, it’s one of those films that gets by on the amount of effort exerted in its making. The plot is a little too intricate for its own good. Cameron Diaz continues to prove her uselessness in a role that could have been played by any hat rack with a bad dye job. Yet, the scenes with Rogen and Chou are fun.

Seth Rogen has two modes: a quiet “mumbling stoner” shtick and a loud “Andre the Giant with his balls in a vice” mode when he tries to imply seriousness. It works for “The Green Hornet” because, like Kato, Chou is there to help carry the load.

Let me say this: There’s no need to see this theatrically. Paying for 3D to see “The Green Hornet” is tantamount to highway robbery. On a lazy Sunday, when it shows up on cable, it might be worth 90 minutes.

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