Comedy and cool gadgets do not entirely save ‘The Green Hornet’ from reaching the same mega-success of past movies in the superhero genre, despite funnyman Seth Rogen’s contributions as co-writer and leading role as a bumbling rich-kid turned crime fighter, The Hornet.[/media-credit]

The Green Hornet is hardly a household name. From the 1930s radio program that started it all to the 1960s television show which floundered after its first season, the Hornet has failed to maintain much buzz over the years. Compared to Christopher Nolan’s dark and brooding Dark Knight franchise, or the charming bad-boy image of Tony Stark in “Iron Man,” people may wonder what The Green Hornet can bring to the table – or rather, what can he bring to the crime-ridden streets? 

What does he have that other heroes don’t? According to the loose remake by director Michel Gondry, he’s an unaccomplished loser with nothing to lose. And with the uncertainty of today’s economy and political future, “The Green Hornet” gives us “heroes” we can identify with in The Hornet, played with laughable vivacity by Seth Rogen (“Funny People”), and his faithful sidekick, Kato (Jay Chou).

Before adopting the persona of The Green Hornet, rich-kid Britt Reid (Rogen) parties his way through life with zero ambitions and a load of daddy issues. However, after his father dies suddenly of a fatal bee sting, Britt is left as the sole heir to his company and absolutely no clue how to act like an adult. 

Enter Kato – a soft-spoken but totally bad-ass martial arts expert, who once worked closely as the Reid’s mechanic. Oh, and he makes the best cappuccino known to man. Both looking for a purpose and a way to fulfill Kato’s genius potential for gadgets and cars, Reid decides that he and Kato should pair up to make a crime-fighting team. Naturally. Of course. Why not?

While representations of The Green Hornet in the comic, television and radio series gave us a serious crime fighter, director Michel Gondry (“Be Kind, Rewind”) offers audiences a completely new take on the “hero”- if you can even call him that. 

For a director whose previous works include thoughtful indie films such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Science of Sleep,” it’s interesting to see such a thought provoking and creative director take the Judd Apatow approach into slapstick absurdity. 

It is nearly impossible to see any of Gondry’s creative directorial touches through the explosions and the action sequences, although they are riveting, and it certainly isn’t his best work. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a popcorn movie, and Gondry deserves a break from his usual repertoire of unique cinematic masterpieces.

As Reid, Rogen doesn’t give us anything we haven’t seen before. Maybe it’s simply the presence of Rogen as an actor that makes us think of stoners and slackers, but the “new and improved” Hornet isn’t to be taken very seriously. He is an egotistical and totally irresponsible child, whose only success comes from Kato’s mad skills and cat-like reflexes. Rogen is charming nonetheless, and, from the hilarious script which he helped co-write, the banter between Britt and Kato is enough to make the movie worthwhile.

Carrying the weight and talent of the crime-fighting duo, Chou is a total scene-stealer. From his impressive martial arts moves to his dry comedic timing, he is the composed yin to Rogen’s blundering yang, and they make a great team. 

As the leader of Los Angeles’s organized crime, Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”) adds to his impressive resume as the “master villain” and is absolutely wonderful. It would have been nice to see Waltz given more screen-time in the film, but he is phenomenal with what he is given, especially in an early scene featuring a hilarious cameo by James Franco.

“The Green Hornet” is no masterpiece. However, it is a charming breath of fresh air in a movie season of blockbuster flops and heavy Oscar contenders. And while it might have fared better among the lighthearted blockbusters, action flicks and comedies of the summer season, “The Green Hornet” does add some flavor to a gloomy January.

3.5 out of 5 Stars