What happened here? The Green Hornet takes popular and enduring source material (the beloved 30s/40s radio serial and 60s TV show, which introduced Bruce Lee to US audiences), an artistically relevant director (Michel Gondry, of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame), a talented cast (including slimmed-down star Seth Rogen, and last year’s Supporting Actor Oscar winner, Christoph Waltz), and about $130 million dollars, throws it all into a blender, and churns out a heaping mess of a film that just about sinks to the level of A-Team or Transformers 2 incoherence.
The warning signs were there: a January release date (bumped from a competitive summer), post-production 3D conversion, loose adaptation of the material (this is, before anything else, a Green Hornet parody), and a divergent creative team that seems to be pulling the picture in different directions.
That includes director Gondry and co-writer and star Rogen, who seem to have different ideas about where to take the material. Cinematographer John Scwartzmann (who shot Michael Bay’s earlier films), editor Michael Tronick (he edited Tony Scott’s earlier work), production designer Owen Paterson (The Matrix series), and an all-too-obvious heavy studio hand only complicate matters.
The Green Hornet is Britt Reid, portrayed here by Rogen as a spoiled rich kid party animal, a male version of Paris Hilton. Rogen lost 30 pounds and beefed up for the role, but as written and portrayed, this is the same goofy, lazy, drug-addled and otherwise inadequate Rogen we’ve come to know from Judd Apatow films; a stronger satiric point could have been made if Reid better fit Rogen’s former physical appearance.
As is, this Britt Reid is one of the most unpleasant and unsympathetic action heroes to ever grace the screen. He’s Tony Stark minus the wit, intelligence, or inventiveness; all he has is money, arrogance, and an inflated sense of self-worth.
The one big fault of the movie is that it never takes this thoroughly unlikable character to task for his faults; while it’s plausible as parody, we keep waiting for this smug idiot to get his ass handed to him, or to come to some kind of self-realization, and it just never happens. The character is presented as fault-ridden from the beginning, and he’s exactly the same by the very end.
Instead, the heart of the film belongs to sidekick Kato (Jay Chou), who builds all the indestructible cars and cool guns, and makes quick work of all the villains in combat scenes. He’s a far more interesting character, and while the film frequently seems to realize this, it relentlessly sticks to Rogen’s Reid.
After the death of his father (Tom Wilkinson), Reid teams with Kato to fight crime, for some reason. The plan: they’ll pretend to be criminals, work their way up the ladder to drug lord Chudnofsky (Waltz), and, uh, report his crimes in The Daily Sentinel? Something like that.
Cameron Diaz, given nothing to do here, plays Reid’s secretary; Edward James Olmos is the newspaper editor who worked for his father; David Harbour the friendly district attorney. James Franco shows up uncredited for an amusing scene at the very beginning with Waltz, who makes for a surprisingly bland villain despite giving roughly the same performance that won him an Oscar in Inglourious Basterds.
There are a few neat action scenes here (a hand-to-hand fight sequence between Rogen and Chou, competently shot by Gondry, is the highlight), long stretches of dialogue, a copy & paste plot, plenty of explosions and vehicular damage, and the battle of good versus evil, which has never felt as arbitrary as it does here.
This is vapid, empty-headed entertainment where only the germ of good ideas remains, a major disappointment and a paycheck movie for all involved, except Rogen, who is working very hard to make himself so unlikable.
In select cinemas, The Green Hornet is also in 3D: dull, dim, and mostly hazy post-production conversion 3D that ranks slightly above The Last Airbender as the worst I’ve seen. A major distraction.