In “The Green Hornet,” Seth Rogen plays a masked vigilante spurred on not by a sense of wrongs needing to be righted, but instead by his immature ego.
That’s certainly a twist on the Hornet’s legacy. Originally a radio character, the Green Hornet was featured in movies in the 1940s, then comic books and pulp novels, and finally a popular TV series in the ‘60s (with a memorably “buzzy” theme song by the era’s superstar trumpeter, Al Hirt).
The new movie follows the basic Hornet legacy, as Britt Reid, a newspaper editor by day, takes on the criminal underworld by night, aided by his Chinese sidekick, Kato.
But this Hornet, as played (and co-scripted) by Rogen, is a spoiled, party-boy slacker who inherits the newspaper after the death of his tycoon father. When Reid sees that the publication can serve to publicize and promote his crime-fighting alter ego, the presses are soon rolling with splashy front-page coverage of the Hornet’s exploits.
In another twist, Reid doesn’t start out wanting to fight crime. He stumbles into that mission after a night of prankish vandalism intersects with a group of heavily armed young thugs…and Kato saves his cowardly skin.
Cameron Diaz plays Reid’s sexy office assistant, Lenore, and Jay Chou is Kato, an engineering genius and martial-arts expert who designs all the Hornet’s cool crime-fighting hardware, including a gun that shoots green “sleep gas” and a tricked-out fleet of high-tech cars.
Cristoph Waltz, who took home an Academy Award last year for his role in “Inglorious Basterds,” portrays the city’s reigning crime lord, none too happy with the Hornet. And don’t tarry too long in line for popcorn before the movie starts, or you’ll miss the uncredited cameo by James Franco, last seen between a rock and a hard place in “127 Hours,” who finds out just how touchy Waltz’s character, Chudnofsky, is about his turf, his appearance and his difficult-to-pronounce name.
Though it’s structured much like a conventional crime-action caper, this Hornet gets most of its buzz from the laughter it generates as Reid and Kato plan and their excursions, and the romantic triangle that results when Diaz’ character enters the story.
This PG-13 “Hornet” marks the first non-R-rated comedy for Rogen, best known for the raunchy yuks of “Knocked Up,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Superbad.” A scene in which Kato plays a piano is a nod to the fact that when he’s not acting, Chou is a pop star in his native Taiwan.
Green Hornet fans across generations will enjoy connecting this modern version to its pop-cultural roots stretching back more than seven decades, noting the ways it riffs on the original premise but remains true to many of the details.
At one point, Reid flips through Kato’s notebook of sketches and doodles. He pauses briefly on one of Bruce Lee, the Hong Kong actor and martial-arts expert who became known to Americans as Kato in the TV series of the ‘60s.
Then Reid turns the page, and so does the movie---onto a new era, a new Kato, and a new Hornet whose crime-busting sting comes with a sloppy salve of noisy, rowdy fun.