'Green Hornet' immersive fun
With superhero movies a dime a dozen, it was only a matter of time till studios delved into the days of radio drama.
Sure, there was 1994's "The Shadow," starring Alec Baldwin and not much else, but film adaptations of such take a certain talent.
Although "The Green Hornet," originally broadcasted in 1936, spawned television serials and a 1966 show that introduced the world to Bruce Lee, it remained true to its radio roots through audience immersion.
Whereas 1966's "Batman" series played up camp and corn, "The Green Hornet" remained somewhat grounded in reality, albeit its own reality, investing audiences in its characters and setting.
For the 2011 adaptation, director Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") is the perfect fit.
Gondry is an immersive director, bringing a distinctive feel to each film that never deviates from plan - from beginning to end, it's Gondry's vision, like it or not.
And with "The Green Hornet," he's having some fun.
A pet project of star and co-writer Seth Rogen ("Knocked Up"), "The Green Hornet" is an action-comedy that revels in its identity - it doesn't strive to be anything it's not and doesn't teeter on the thin line between the gritty realism and flat-out comic mayhem.
It just is, and it works.
Rogen stars as Britt Reid, the millionaire playboy son of crusading newspaper publisher James Reid (Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Collins"). When his father unexpectedly dies, Britt is reluctantly left in charge of his media empire.
He's also left in charge of his father's valet and mechanic, Kato (Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou), an inventor extraordinaire who reveals an arsenal of armored, weapon-laden cars - tools that inspire Britt to make something more of his life.
Having dreamed of fighting crime as a kid, even to the extent of unsuccessfully breaking up fights at school, Britt feels like his father never supported him in such endeavors and, as such, takes this opportunity to pursue his lifelong dream.
With martial arts expert Kato (and his inventions) at his side, Britt takes on the persona of the Green Hornet, posing as a criminal to infiltrate crime, while all the while actually fighting crime.
The only problem is he hasn't any idea how to do it. Enter secretary Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz, "Knight and Day"), whose background in criminology helps Britt and Kato plan their next move.
Meanwhile, Britt uses his newspaper, The Daily Sentinel, to throw the Green Hornet into the limelight, thus attracting the attention from both ends of the legal spectrum - the police, guided by crooked district attorney Scanlon (David Harbour, "Quantum of Solace") and crime lord Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds").
Scanlon wants to manipulate the Sentinel's news to prove he's effective against crime, when it's quite the opposite. Meanwhile, Chudnofsky, displeased with his public image (after a particularly hilarious opening scene with an uncredited James Franco), grows jealous of the Hornet's popularity and seeks to adopt an alter-ego himself, with comically deadly results.
This leaves Britt and Kato in the middle, as they attempt to expose Scanlon and stop Chudnofsky.
As far as plot goes, it's nothing new, but Gondry's astute sense of style makes the action fresh and funny, delivered alongside an enjoyable screenplay rife with dialogue-driven comedy.
Rogen, sharing writing credits with frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg ("Superbad"), fits the role comfortably, perfectly at home with his character, while Chou impresses as the sidekick of a few words. Chou wisely avoids mimicking Bruce Lee, maintaining a screen presence of his own.
Like in "Inglourious Basterds," Waltz nearly steals the show. His Chudnofsky is gleefully deranged and hilariously self-conscious about his public perception, vexed that his peers don't find him scary enough, despite the fact he carries a double-barreled pistol.
Again, his introductory scene with Franco is Gondry gold, perfectly setting the tone for the film - fun.
While the source material is honored, Gondry makes this retelling his own, effectively updating the tale for a modern audience. All the same, there's plenty of homage to go around, even beyond "The Green Hornet," including an amusing fight scene right out of "The Pink Panther" series, which also featured a valet/butler called Kato (Burt Kwouk).
Fortunately, these references don't come across as heavy handed, and nor does the film. It's escapist, immersive fun in Gondry's colorful microcosm, and an example that future superhero movies could follow.
"The Green Hornet," rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.