(by Dustin Putman
"The Green Hornet" can take stock in the knowledge that it is based on one of the earliest superheroes—it began life as a 1930s radio program created by George W. Trendle—but as a long-in-development feature film, there is virtually nothing to distinguish it or make it stand out from the crowd of other, more popular and interesting characters running around fighting crime. A distaff cross between 2008's "Iron Man" and 2010's "Kick-Ass," the picture lacks the charisma found in Robert Downey Jr.'s wealthy playboy Tony Stark and the audaciousness that complimented the lower-budgeted but more innovative tale of Aaron Johnson's Dave Lizewski and Chloe Grace-Moretz's Hit-Girl. In helming his first major studio release, director Michel Gondry's (2004's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") signature offbeat creativity is rendered undetectable here, while the screenplay by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (2007's "Superbad") has trouble finding the correct tone, which unevenly moves between broad comedy, derivative action, and an overall story that yearns—and fails—to be taken seriously. There is no dramatic heft to anything in "The Green Hornet," so light and ineffectual is it that scenes do not pass by so much as they merely dissolve upon completion. Article continues below
Seth Rogen (2009's "Funny People"), bless him, is badly miscast as Britt Reid, the rich slacker heir to a newspaper dynasty passed down to him when his father James (Tom Wilkinson) suddenly dies from a hornet sting. Britt knows nothing about running The Daily Sentinel, but in an attempt to make something of himself, he concocts a crazy idea to partner with his dad's tireless coffee maker/weapons designer/auto au pair Kato (Jay Chou) and start fighting the city's drug underworld as makeshift masked crusaders. They do not have any super powers, per se, but Kato is a master of martial arts and they already have some nifty weaponry to go along with their snazzy vehicle, a 1965 Chrysler Imperial. As their alter egos' do-gooder work catches the notice of the media, one person who is distinctly rubbed the wrong way by them is maniacal crime boss Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz). He is none too pleased to see his criminal livelihood threatened, and he's not about to let The Green Hornet and Kato take it away from him.
Overly familiar and uninspired, the $100-million-plus "The Green Hornet" is a would-be summer release—it was originally scheduled for July 2010—that Columbia Pictures quite correctly realized would not live up to its flashier competitors. Relegating the film to January and uselessly converting it into ugly, barely-there 3-D so inadequate it might as well be billed as 2¼-D, the studio's decisions contradictorily stink of both desperation and defeat. Either way, the finished product is one that is neither here nor there, a largely mediocre and forgettable piffle that merely bides its time as it goes through the motions. The sporadic humor works on occasion—when Britt learns that Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), vying for the job of temp secretary, is thirty-six years old, he jokingly tells her she's so old he'll have to put in a wheelchair ramp at the office—but comes and goes without fully committing to its comedic side. The plot proper is unoriginal and purely throwaway. The action sequences are chores to get through, boiling down to repetitive, dull-as-butterknife car chases, far-fetched fights, and plenty of property destruction. They extend the running time to almost two full hours, and in that time is not a single standout set-piece.
Had the script simply embraced its loopier, jokier aspects, scribes Rogen and Goldberg might have been onto something. Instead, they actually want viewers to care about what is going on and become emotionally invested in the protagonists, which never happens. Britt is snide and spoiled, failing to ever warm himself to audiences, and he treats the death of his father with roughly the reverence of a passing sneeze. One never gets the feeling that he genuinely believes in his role as a crime-fighter; instead, it seems like more a requirement of the plot having no choice but to push him in that direction. Seth Rogen is an affable performer, or can be, but he is out of his element here and the wrong fit for Britt Reid/Green Hornet. Simply put, the character is not very likable—certainly not someone worth actively rooting for—and the changes he experiences are inconsequentially portrayed.
As Kato, Jay Chou shows more promise; there's a glimmer in his eye throughout that gives away how much fun he's having. It ultimately doesn't rub off on the viewer, but Chou nonetheless holds the screen when he's on it. In his first role following his Oscar-winning turn in 2009's "Inglourious Basterds," Christoph Waltz is deliciously unhinged as lead villain Chudnofsky; the problem is that he's given so little to do. Finally, what is someone of Cameron Diaz's (2010's "Knight and Day") stature doing in the paper-thin part of secretary Lenore Case? It's almost literally painful watching her onscreen with nothing to do. Lenore doesn't even get the chance to be an obligatory love interest; the closest she gets to a romance with Britt is a scene where he abruptly tries to kiss her, and she slaps him.
"The Green Hornet" is alive with energy and vigor for approximately five minutes. In an unbilled cameo, James Franco (2010's "127 Hours") steals the entire movie away from everyone else as a smart-mouthed club-owner-cum-drug-dealer who verbally slaughters Chudnofsky until the Russian lunatic promptly turns the tables on him. Franco is hilarious in the part, and in just a few fleeting moments creates a vivid, one-of-a-kind character whom the viewer feels like he or she knows more than the leads. Once he's again out of sight, the film returns to settling for humdrum detachment and comic book tropes of the most sluggish order. For a story that is all about a young man seeking a new identity he can be proud of, "The Green Hornet" is curiously lacking in any identity to call its own.