Besides "The Adventures of Tintin," I didn't read comic books when I was younger. I still don't. But due to the recent spate of films derived from Marvel and DC comics, my interest in these characters and stories has grown. My interest was thus piqued when I heard about a new comic book character that would soon be arriving in cinemas: Britt Reid, alias the Green Hornet, and his sidekick Kato.
Britt Reid (played by Seth Rogen) is the son of a newspaper magnate, who dies and leaves him the corporate empire without any idea of how to run it. But with loads of money and a sense of adventure, Britt recruits his father's resident mechanic/barista Kato (Jay Chou), as well as amateur criminologist Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), and goes out to fight the criminal underworld of Los Angeles. He fights the city's resident criminal mastermind Chudnofsky (the delightfully self-conscious Christoph Waltz) and the obviously corrupt District Attorney Scanlon (David Harbour).
I'm not sure whether it comes across in the original comics, but Britt Reid is, at least in this film, is almost spectacularly unlikeable. He epitomizes the "spoiled playboy" stereotype, but unlike Batman/Bruce Wayne, that is his actual personality. There is no change of heart that causes him to yearn for justice; there is no deep philosophical or metaphysical yearning to make his deeds meaningful. His inaugural act as the Green Hornet is to decapitate the statue of his dead father. He is a coward, a boor, an over-sexed miscreant, and abusive friend, and a petulant man-child. He has no sense of personal responsibility, no sense of humility, and really no sense of virtue whatsoever. There is one redeeming moment towards the end of the film where he refuses a bribe from Scanlon, but that decision was borne equally out of pride as out of Reid's fledgling moral idealism. I found it totally impossible to like the character, and nearly impossible to root for him.
Besides the catastrophe that is the main character, the film is a mixed bag. The sidekick Kato is not only highly proficient, but also far more responsible and creative than Reid. Even if it would have been a travesty to the original comics series, I would have much preferred a movie in which Kato were the real Green Hornet who was using Britt Reid's resources and general cluelessness to fight crime on his own. Britt Reid shouldn't have been the protagonist, but instead the plucky comic relief. However, Kato was obliged to remain the buffoon's valet, and Jay Chou's acting did nothing to elevate this character from mediocrity.
As for Lenore Case, the criminologist, this role was mostly reduced to spouting random plot points from gang movies and crime films. To give her character depth, she was shoehorned into the 'love interest' role as well. But, in light of Britt Reid's utter lack of charm, this sideplotmostly mostly consists of Cameron Diaz acting alternately offended and incredulous at Britt's offensiveness.
The secondary villain, the District Attorney Scanlon, was utterly unremarkable as well. The third-act twist which reveals him to be corrupt (having bribed and then killed Britt Reid's father, on behalf of the crime lord Chudnofsky) was so clearly foreshadowed, it was hard not to think about his "sudden but inevitable betrayal" while watching the earlier scenes.
Perhaps the sole redeeming factor of the film was the villain, Chudnofsky. He belongs to the "old guard" of the criminal underworld, who'd risen by hard work and high explosives. He remains insecure, however, both because of his unpronounceable name and because he's constantly overshadowed by more image-conscious criminals. We first meet him in one such encounter: he rapidly dispatches four armed guards then casually asks the drug kingpin (an uncredited appearance by James Franco) for tips on improving his public image. Waltz plays this scene beautifully, and his character's plot arc (he ultimately becomes the quip-spouting caped criminal, "Bloodnofsky") is a beauty to behold. More's the pity, for those gems were encased in the thick walls suffering from narrative dry rot. "The Green Hornet" was an immense disappointment.