The Green Hornet (2011)
118 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C +
The sorry January release slot for "The Green Hornet" is obviously too easy and unfair of a reason to criticize why the movie is mostly forgettable fare. And that doesn't mean it's not mindlessly entertaining on some larky level.
Seth Rogen plays Britt Reid, the spoiled rich slacker of a stern millionaire newspaper publisher (Tom Wilkinson) who can't keep himself out of the papers as a party animal. After his father dies from a mysterious hornet sting, he inherits The Daily Sentinel, which he has no idea how to run. Then he teams up with Kato (Taiwanese singer/musician Jay Chou), the family mechanic, weapons designer, and cappuccino maker, and comes up with a stupid idea: they can fulfill their potential by fighting crime, posing as criminals but being the good guys. He, of course, becomes the mask-wearing Green Hornet that steals the headlines of his own newspaper.
Rogen, no longer the adorably schlubby Pillsbury Doughboy, has slimmed down, but his Britt is a doltish jerk and simply incongruous as a superhero. The actor himself is miscast. Chou fares much better as the sidekick who's like Jackie Chan's minion with ever-so-slightly better English. Christoph Waltz is often cartoonishly amusing as the bad Chudnofsky, who's frequently told he's not scary enough, and James Franco in a hilariously juicy cameo as a club meth dealer is arguably the movie's highlight. As for Cameron Diaz, playing Mr. Reid's brainy temp assistant, she has no real reason to exist in this movie. It's a waste of her reliable comic energy, but at least she's not playing the obligatory love interest.
French director Michel Gondry, who has made some inventive, pretty offbeat pictures like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," is the right fit for this material, this being his first real mainstream picture. Although his tone is all over the lot, Gondry shows off some visual creativity and pop-art invention that he's known for in occasional bursts. Instead, it's Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg (of "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express") who don't really suit the material as well. Based on the 1930s radio serial show, the script is jokey, with the writers' coarse humor slipping through, and there's a whole joke about Britt thinking he's of Batman caliber and does all the work (Kato obviously does everything). There's just not much to care about that a story feels so incidental.
One slo-mo fight scene with street muggers, where Kato's mind slows down as he prepares to kicks ass, is probably the coolest, more inspired moment the movie has to offer. There are also some little things that count, like the green-gas gun Kato single-handedly invents and Britt's failed spitballing of Kato's sidekick name, but "The Green Hornet" gets more of a buzz from all the clattery, conventionally edited car chases (one in which the “heroes” wreck a cop car with the cop inside). And paying extra for the 3-D glasses adds nothing visually. Sure, Robert Downey Jr. made Tony Stark more interesting in "Iron Man," but "The Green Hornet," like Britt Reid, just wants to party. His Robin-esque sidekick Kato upstages the lead hero (Britt Reid who??), and next time, if there is a next time, these green wannabes should just leave the crime to the bigshots.