A strangely used cast (Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Tom Wilkinson) led by Seth Rogen and Jay Chou are but the tip of the iceberg of oddness that is The Green Hornet. Inspired by the George W. Trendle radio series of old, the movie follows Rogen’s Britt Reid, a rich and thoroughly spoiled man, whose aimless life of alcohol and sex is brought into stark revelation upon the death of his media-mogul father (Wilkinson). Now the head of a vast empire in Los Angeles, complete with an influential newspaper, Britt has no clue what to do with his future or pretty much anything else. He isn’t even clear on who makes him his fancy coffee in the morning. It turns out his personal barista is Kato (Chou), who worked for Britt’s dad on all sorts of secret projects, including the creation of a car with a bulletproof frame and tires that pop back to life when they sport a leak.
Inspired by the crime in the city and Kato’s gadgets, Britt turns to being a superhero. Sure he has no powers, but neither does Bruce Wayne. However, unlike Batman and other do-gooders, Britt hatches a plan on how to crack down on the criminals of Los Angeles; he’s going to pretend to be one himself. Britt becomes the Green Hornet and takes to the streets with a gas-gun, missile shooting automobiles and his own personal ass-kicking machine aka Kato.
A misshapen, tonal mess, the most peculiar thing about The Green Hornet is who helms it; French director Michel Gondry. Best known for visually arresting films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, Gondry has never been one for mainstream sensibilities. As such, an action movie about a caped crusader isn’t par for the course. Gondry, working from a script by Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express), doesn’t tweak or bring any fresh sensibilities to The Green Hornet, instead telling a rote, seemingly endless story, which rarely shows the flourishes he is best known for.
The few moments those traits shine through, the movie is quite enjoyable. Late in the picture, our hero’s car is cut in half, yet it plows through a series of baddies with only a hood, two wheels and a backseat getting dragged behind it. All of this is set in an office, making the tiny thing even more striking as it barrels through hallways and between cluttered desks. Plus there is an absurd opening between two rival crime bosses (Waltz and James Franco) is hilarious. Waltz is baffled about his apparently un-frightening presence, with Franco pointing out that he merely looks, “like my Uncle Greg.” It’s the funniest part of the film, a brief bit of likely improvved acting that doesn’t stretch on too long, a problem Rogen and Goldberg’s scripts tend to do.
The Green Hornet aches its way to nearly two hours, not sharp enough comically to earn that running time or with a narrative so compelling that the length is fitting. The movie plays to all of Rogen’s worst traits (constantly laughing at his own jokes), which tend to appear in solo affairs (Observe and Report) more than ensemble pieces. Rogen can’t play off of Chou with one-liners, thus appearing to be a babbling man-child with little charisma. Chou’s martial arts abilities are impressive and briefly shown. Diaz is in the picture with nothing whatsoever to do. Only Waltz comes off in tact; his kooky villain cackling and twisted, with the right level of theatricality to register amongst the blandness.
The Green Hornet opens wide all across Seattle today.