By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
Seth Rogen, who has thus far enjoyed a successful film career as the affable slacker who serendipitously rises to heroic heights, fails to summon that persona in director Michel Gondry’s “The Green Hornet.” Playing both Britt Reid, heir to a publishing dynasty, and his alter ego title character, he is but an unredeeming and not so terribly funny schnook.
Unimaginatively written and poorly paced, “The Green Hornet” possesses a hit and miss level of slipshod glib that can’t decide whether it wants to imply campiness or convince us to sympathetically embrace its would-be superhero. Adding insult to injury, for a few dollars more per ducat you can accentuate the negative and see all this ineptitude in 3-D.
But the only thing that will stand out with any consequence is the waste of money said option represents. While the lightshow attending the nonstop scenes of destruction Mr. Gondry wreaks throughout his film might have blown us away in the late 1960s, employed now the cacophonous psychedelia is about as cutting edge as a Nehru jacket.
Based on the accumulated lore that has evolved in radio, film and pulp form since the 1930s, the contemporary update of creator George W. Trendle’s Depression Era vigilante is penned by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Pity is, instead of imbuing the protagonists with a comic book fancifulness, they simulate the cartoonish hijinks of Tom and Jerry.
The story initially follows the familiar, first episode exposition common to most superhero accounts, the major difference being this dude’s lack of character. Other than chasing the girls and wallowing in the decadence his wealth makes possible, Britt Reid doesn’t want to accomplish a thing. Naturally, a tragic watershed spurs a change of heart.
Catalytic to the ensuing epiphany is Britt’s acquaintance with Jay Chou’s Kato, his dad’s ingenious auto mechanic, tech virtuoso and coffee maker extraordinaire. Never mind that the wastrel just wanted a good cup of Joe. The idea of being masked vigilantes is hatched, but never fully baked. It doesn’t deter them from rushing headlong to their first mission.
After a while, discovering they don’t know a thing about their newly chosen profession, they make the crime-fighting franchise a troika, yet do so without letting the third party in on the deal. She is Cameron Diaz’s brainy Lenore Case, happy to be hired as a researcher at the prestigious Daily Sentinel. Slyly, they tap her for the skinny on the local bad guys.
Of course, they are soon vying for her attentions. Added to the fact that neither the L.A. Police nor the city’s criminal element knows exactly what the duo is up to, the resultant rift only confuses matters. But by Britt’s twisted way of thinking, that serves to makes his crusade more illustrious. Such irrationality not only fails to amuse, but tries our patience.
It is a glazier’s dream. Utilizing the CGI magic available to him, director Gondry takes a dyspeptic child’s toy-breaking fantasy to newly destructive heights. After half an hour, there isn’t a pane of virtual glass left intact in L.A. Delirious in his newfound passion, Britt/Green Hornet kicks off a tedious, self-congratulatory rant to underline the nonsense.
The ensuing banter fest between lead and sidekick, never achieving a satisfyingly comic rhythm, points out Mr. Rogen’s ultimate inappropriateness for the role. While Adam Sandler might have put it across, the heretofore schlumpy Rogen is just not a likable brat. To play it straight, à la Michael Keaton in “Batman” (1989), would defeat the purpose.
While the supporting players are less incompatible, none is interesting enough to save the day. Cameron Diaz’s precocious underling might have been bolstered to better effect. And Christoph Waltz, whose supremely villainous portrayal in “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) won him an Oscar, can’t find his humorous bad self as the gangster Chudnofsky.
Mr. Chou’s Kato, on the other hand, is hampered by the lack of chemistry he and his partner in—well, whatever it is they’re trying to achieve—exude. Though the wiz wows us with his technical prowess, Rogen’s uncertain portrayal doesn’t allow him to establish anything beyond the rebellious, Man Friday stereotype he ostensibly plays in a vacuum.
About the only thing that works here is the ideal you bring to the theater…that hopeful little kid you were, comfily ensconced under the covers, trusty flashlight leading the way across the comic book pages as you made the world safe for democracy. Unworthy of that romantic aspiration, “The Green Hornet” betrays the true blue hero in you.
“The Green Hornet,” rated PG-13, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Michel Gondry and stars Seth Rogen, Jay Chou and Cameron Diaz. Running time: 119 minutes
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