The Green Hornet, Michel Gondry, 119 mins (12A)
Conviction, Tony Goldwyn, 107 mins (15)

A superhero crime caper that has plenty of buzz but lacks any sting

Despite all those capes, tights and animal-themed jumpsuits, the default mood of today's superhero films is angsty introspection, so it's quite a relief to find that Michel Gondry's The Green Hornet is closer to the 1960s Batman TV show than to Christopher Nolan's recent dramas about the Dark Knight.

Rather than having a Greek god with a six-pack in the title role, The Green Hornet stars Seth Rogen (also the co-writer), the gargle-voiced manchild usually seen in Judd Apatow's comedies – and it's his dopey-go-lucky persona that sets the tone.

He starts the film as the playboy heir to a Los Angeles media empire, his nightly parties regularly featuring in his family's own gossip columns. When his father (Tom Wilkinson) dies in mysterious circumstances, Rogen turns to crime-fighting, not because he's hungry for justice or revenge, but because he reckons it might be a blast to put a mask on and punch some muggers. And even then, he doesn't bother with any of the training sessions or equipment design that most would-be superheroes put themselves through: the heavy lifting is left to his handyman Kato, played by Jay Chou, an engineering genius and martial arts ace (Bruce Lee had the role in the TV version). Together, they take to the streets in a knockabout montage of shoot-outs, car chases, and shattering plate-glass windows, but Rogen never stops waggling his eyebrows or jabbering wisecracks, just in case we might be inclined to take things seriously.

There's a villain of sorts, Christoph Waltz of Inglourious Basterds, but he's more concerned with his image than with global domination. There's some eye candy, Cameron Diaz, but she's nearly as under-used as Waltz. And there's some buddy-movie friction between the two heroes, but essentially Rogen is the same incompetent numbskull at the end of the film as he is at the start.

With its cartoonish visuals and its goofy, consequence-free mayhem, The Green Hornet could have been ideal for children too young for The Dark Knight's doom and gloom, so it's a shame that it has so much swearing and such a high body count. Adults might be carried along by the harmless fun, but after a while you do wonder if The Green Hornet has any kind of point. Nothing that happens seems to matter to anyone in the film, so it probably won't matter to anyone watching it, either.

Conviction is based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) and her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell). In flashback, we see that they had the archetypal troubled childhood on the wrong side of the tracks in rural Massachusetts, but they've always been there for one another, so when Betty Anne's charismatic, short-fused brother is sent down for a murder she's certain he didn't commit, she pledges to free him. The method she picks doesn't seem much less preposterous than Russell Crowe's jailbreak plan in last week's The Next Three Days. A high-school dropout and a mother of two, she decides that she'll finish school, go to college, proceed to law school, and qualify as a lawyer, just so that she can lodge an appeal on Kenny's behalf.

No disrespect to Waters or her dizzying achievement, but there isn't much more to the story than that outline. Neither her education nor her investigation has many ups and downs, and while Rockwell's tattoos and facial hair get loopier every time we see him, Swank looks and behaves the same from the start of the film to the finish.

Betty Anne is a model of bloody-minded, never-say-die perseverance, which may be a laudable trait in real life, but not one that makes for a very textured film. Minnie Driver, as her flawlessly dependable friend, isn't any more complex.

There are questions that could have been asked about Waters's motives, and whether it was right for her to sacrifice so much of her own life for the sake of Kenny's, but this drab TV movie tiptoes around them.

Even the break-up of her marriage happens off-screen, between scenes, without a tear being shed, or any recriminatory words from her sons or her ex-husband. Like Betty Anne herself, the film just will not be distracted from her mission.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber sees Darren Aronofsky make the grand jeté from wrestling to ballet with Black Swan

Also Showing: 16/01/2011

Brotherhood (77 mins, 15)

When some college fraternity "pledges" stick up a convenience store as an initiation rite, one of them is shot in the shoulder, so the others take ever more drastic steps to keep themselves out of prison. Will Canon's blackly comic thriller may be short of characters you can root for, but the twists wouldn't disgrace a David Mamet play or an episode of Fawlty Towers. Think of it as "Reservoir Frat Boys".

Gasland (107 mins, PG)

This worrying eco-documentary posits that drilling for natural gas in the United States is a cowboy operation that tends to result in health problems and, believe it or not, flammable tap water for those living nearby. The man responsible is, as ever, Dick Cheney. Depressing as Gasland's conclusions may be, Josh Fox imbues his report with deadpan humour and first-person urgency: drilling is due near his own sylvan family home.

Travellers (90 mins, 15)

Four city boys are chased through the woods by some Irish travellers in this self-funded British thriller. It's barely watchable, but there are glimmers of talent which suggest that the director could have better luck with a decent budget.

Film Choice

Assuming his stiffest upper lip, Colin Firth, right, excels in The King's Speech, a chamber piece about Royal diction and duty. Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush provide memorable support. Until the end of February, the BFI Southbank is showing the films of versatile Hollywood great, Howard Hawks, including Bogart baffler The Big Sleep.

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