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The Green Hornet

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The Green Hornet

Directed by Michel Gondry

Opens Jan. 14

That the 1966 television adaptation of radio’s beloved Green Hornet was billed as The Kato Show in Hong Kong pretty much sums up 2011’s The Green Hornet. It’s about fighting evil, walking away from explosions, and having cool one-liners, sure, but the real drama is the conflict going on between Seth Rogen’s newspaper publisher/playboy “hero” Britt Reid and his deadly serious “sidekick” Kato (pop star Jay Chou). Any bad guys that get taken down aren’t so much defeated as they are ground up between the egos of the Green Hornet and Kato.

Basically, it’s very smartly written. The majority of superhero movies get so interested in being grand and epic, in having the whole world hang in the balance of this or that impossible feat, that there’s not enough focus left over for the characters. Not so this time around. These heroes are real, fumblers and bumblers and petty just like us, not Boy Scouts we could never live up to. Very unlike us, however, they do get to drive the Black Beauty, a car so gadget-laden—and wonderful—that James Bond’s Q would have to blush. And, yes, thanks to cutaways and effects, Chou is able to channel a bit of Bruce Lee into his Kato, just as Rogen is able to channel Rogen and Cameron Diaz still has that Mary smile as love interest Lenore Case.

And in keeping with other superhero movies, the hero never really has proper definition, never really comes into his own, until his very presence spawns a cartoonish arch-nemesis. It’s what M. Night Shyamalan was saying in Unbreakable. It’s what Joker has been telling Batman for years. And so it is here, except now it’s not all grim and dark. It’s—as the trailer suggests, and in spite of how cheap human life is this time around—funny. Very funny. All that humor, though, is mere distracting setup: The real story, the one that sneaks in and works on the heart and mind, is how discovering a sense of journalistic integrity can inform the hero’s “secret” life and, somehow, save the city. Yes, The Green Hornet is just a simple “fill these shoes, son” story, a coming-of-age-20-years-late thing. And you may end up loving it for being so simple and so fun without pretending otherwise.

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