*The Green Hornet (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
He doesn't exactly kick ass: He is an ass. Life as a masked crime fighter with some slick wheels is not the chick magnet he imagined it would be. The smart, capable gal he's after naturally wants nothing to do with him. His sidekick is the one with all the mojo, anyway. Best he can do is stand around watching everyone else do all the hard work, and make a few wisecracks ... that no one laughs at.
Serious devotees of the Green Hornet, he of the dark, grim radio show of the 1930s, are going to howl. The rest of us can enjoy The Green Hornet Seth Rogen-style, as an aggressively goofy spoof of the modern dark, grim vigilante drama.
If you can't beat Christopher Nolan and his Batman — and if you wanted to, it's not doofus Rogen and madcap French director Michel Gondry you'd turn to — you might as well scramble in the other direction. Which Hornet does with as much cartoonish chaotic energy it can muster, and more than a little meta cunning, too.
Daddy took away Britt Reid's faux Superman doll and ripped its head off once, long ago, but now the spoiled brat and sudden heir to Daddy's fortune, including Daddy's Los Angeles newspaper, is playing superhero to his nerdy heart's content. What's most intriguing about this sly spin on the masked-avenger story might be how Rogen, who not only stars as Reid but co-wrote the script with Evan Goldberg, doesn't let his character get away with being an overgrown adolescent. That's unlike far too many movies these days in which male juvenile attitudes and behavior are celebrated as jest-plain-folks.
Here, Reid's incompetence in the superhero role he fancies for himself is rewarded with physical beatings; his stupidity is bowled over by the genius and competence of his sidekick Kato (Jay Chou); and his imagined savoir faire is scoffed at by the likes of Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), the inadvertent brains behind Reid's vigilante hobby.
Reid is an unexpectedly amusing twist on the superhero, and Kato an even more entertaining twist on the sidekick. Chou is deadpan hilarious, but the villains don't escape getting sent up. James Franco snarks his way through a cameo in which his wannabe criminal overlord confronts the city's crime boss, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), which lends Chudnofsky an air of insecurity that we're not used to seeing in comic-book villains. (Except, perhaps, to the degree that anyone wanting to take over the world, or even just a modern metropolis, is clearly dealing with some personal issues.)
The homoerotic subtext that usually dogs a story about two guys who wear masks and get physical together becomes an overt running joke here. The PR angle on how heroes and villains alike sell themselves and their actions in a media-saturated world explicitly drives the plot and fuels the humor. If the action — which is often muddled, frequently ridiculous (cars fall on people a lot) and capable of being cut without impacting the overall effect one iota — is out-clevered by the comedy, it's a small price to pay, from the currency of slam-bang movie enjoyment and for some satisfying superhero yuks.