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Getting 'The Green Hornet' off the ground

Seth Rogen had a vision for the superhero, but not many shared it. Now, after a struggle of nearly four years, he's got a movie, a release date and an optimistic sense of accomplishment.

July 23, 2010|By Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times

It's not easy being a hard-luck hero. Just ask Seth Rogen, who for the better part of four years has been trying to get "The Green Hornet" feature film off the ground despite changes to the script, the tone, the director and, well, pretty much everything except the hero's cool customized car.

The comedy- action movie, finally, has a solid release date set for January and Rogen, who stars in the title role and co-wrote the script, will bring the film to Comic-Con International in San Diego on Friday to begin a public campaign to take the film's street credibility from zero level to hero level. You'll have to forgive the 28-year-old Vancouver native if he moans about all the other superhero properties that fly much faster and far straighter on their way to movie theaters.

"I had a meeting with Fox the other day and they have all of the 'X-Men: First Class' stuff up on the wall," Rogen said of the Marvel Comics adaptation, which didn't even have a director until May but is now being fast-tracked for release next summer. "Look at the way that movie is happening. It could have the worst script in the world, the worst director in the world — not that it does, but it could have those things — and there's no way the movie isn't going to get made. Our movie was not like that."

Rogen, sitting in a Los Angeles restaurant, sighed and then jabbed at his side salad with a fork. The actor, who shed plenty of his previous pudge to play the title role in "Hornet," seems alternately irked and impressed by his struggle to make "Hornet," which Rogen co-wrote with Evan Goldberg, who was also his scripting partner on the cinematic bong-hits "Superbad" and "The Pineapple Express."

"It's been a project of passion, and that's the only reason we kept it going," Rogen said. "If it wasn't about passion it would have disappeared a long time ago. I'm excited for people to see it, and I'm excited about taking it to San Diego."

In the movie, Rogen plays Britt Reid, a rich, shallow and self-possessed party animal who inherits the job of being a newspaper publisher when his father ( Tom Wilkinson) dies suddenly. He also inherits the services of a somewhat mysterious employee named Kato (Taiwanese actor Jay Chou) whose martial arts and mechanical skills inspire Reid down an unlikely path of becoming a masked vigilante.

Christoph Waltz, coming off some Oscar-winning villainy in "Inglourious Basterds," is the gangland bad guy, Edward James Olmos is a grizzled city editor and Cameron Diaz is Lenore "Casey" Case, an amateur gumshoe trying to puzzle out the story behind the new mystery man zooming around the city in a weaponized 1966 Imperial Crown, nicknamed the Black Beauty.

That the film will hit theaters in January is not exactly a sign of studio confidence — the conventional logic is that post-holiday weekends are the doldrums for Hollywood releases; "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" did make box-office noise last year, but it wasn't a $130-million, 3-D special-effects film.

If "Hornet" becomes a success story it may well start on Friday afternoon at Comic-Con. That's where Rogen and director Michel Gondry will bring their project to fans for the first time with a panel that also features Goldberg, producer Neal Moritz and Waltz. The panel is in hangar-sized Hall H — it seats 6,500 — where fans come ready to cheer but also don't take kindly to Hollywood adaptations such as "Catwoman" that take liberties with established mythology and tone.

Even slimmed-down, Rogen isn't the dashing, action-hero type — that's where much of the film's comedy comes from — but it might be a mistake to assume that Comic-Con fans will be riled up by that. Green Hornet has a far different heritage than Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine or the comic-book properties that moviegoers have met in recent years.

Superman introduced the modern concept of the superhero and the comic book in 1938, but two years earlier, the Hornet was already wearing his mask and fighting gangland hoods — it's just that he was doing it on the radio dial, not the printed page. The Hornet was created by Fran Striker and George W. Trendle, and the premise was that handsome newspaper publisher Britt Reid prowled the streets at night as a vigilante with his faithful companion at his side in Kato, a driver, valet and friend who was originally portrayed as Japanese, a heritage that was changed by 1940 as the American perception of Japan changed considerably amid the dispatches from occupied China.

The Hornet was featured in movie serials in 1940 and 1941 but never really made much impact as a comic-book character. In the modern consciousness, he is remembered primarily because of a brief stint on 1960s television and the legacy of one man: Bruce Lee. The San Francisco native who ushered in a new level of martial-arts awareness in America portrayed Kato on the ABC series "The Green Hornet," which lasted all of 26 episodes.

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