After a path to the big screen that bounced around more than one of Billy’s trips in a Family Circus cartoon, The Green Hornet has finally landed — with a splat. A swarm of names were attached to the project over the years, ranging from George Clooney to Kevin Smith to Nicholas Cage. None have anything to do with the final product. In the end, it took Seth Rogen stepping into the green trousers to get a script finalized, which he co-wrote with Evan Goldberg (the two also penned the 2007 surprise hit Superbad, and the 2008 stoner flick Pineapple Express). While The Green Hornet might be awesome if you were really stoned, it ends up being super bad for the sober.
Like the radio shows that originated the character, Britt Reid (Rogen) is a newspaper man who decides to practice vigilante justice to clean up the streets. Apparently the pen is not mightier than the sword. In the updated version, Reid is an oversized child who enjoys spending Daddy’s money on booze and women until dear old Dad (Tom Wilkinson) dies, causing him to reevaluate his life. While in the search of a decent cup of coffee, Reid encounters Kato (Jay Chou), his father’s mechanic, and a bromance is born. After bonding over the act of decapitating a statue of dear old dad, the two hatch a plan to become crime fighters disguised as criminals. It’s the type of plan that only two drunk guys spending the night together in the back of a car would find logical. And yes, the scenario is pretty gay. In fact, it’s only one of many gay jokes and innuendoes sprinkled throughout the script.
These gay jokes aren’t really insulting. Like most of the humor in the film, they’re mostly just stupid. It’s as if Rogen and Goldberg crammed everything into the script that might be moderately funny and then didn’t edit out any of the duds or try to refine any of the ones with potential. Which is the overall problem with the film: no restraint. Director Michel Gondry can create a great explosion, but he doesn’t know when to stop. Even before the final big blow-out, the feeling of being bludgeoned will likely numb the audience into a stupor.
If there’s one thing Rogen has mastered, it’s the role of the man-child. As Reid, Rogen gets to be outrageous and over the top. Even when hidden behind the Green Hornet’s mask, Reid is little more than a petulant, overindulged child. In fact, the only signal Reid is supposed to be likeable is that Rogen plays the character. And Rogen’s regurgitated shtick, as seen in Knocked Up and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, does little to redeem the character.
Chou’s Kato, the real mastermind of the operation, is a breath of fresh air. The script picks fun at the marginalized role of Kato from the original radio series, which allows for Kato’s exasperation to shine through. Kato’s fighting style is a mash-up of TV’s Chuck and Psych, but the fight scenes are too frenetic and over-edited to be comprehensible. Watching it in 3D only exacerbates this problem, since most scenes look about as technologically advanced as my old red Viewfinder.
Perhaps the most interesting casting is Christoph Waltz as the evil nemesis, Chudnofsky. While the character is never fully developed, there’s a hint of Waltz’s performance from Inglourious Basterds, but much less scary. Sadly, jokes about the character’s hard to pronounce name are about as complex as his character gets, though a brief opening scene featuring a cameo by James Franco is particularly fun. Too bad it comes so early in the film.
Also wasted is Cameron Diaz, who does little more than act as a potential love interest for Reid and Kato to prove they are in fact straight. Her role is just one of the many ill-conceived plot points sacrificed on the altar of infantile humor. However, it doesn’t take long to figure out that searching for depth in the multitude of gun shots and explosions is pointless, so little effort will be expended on trying to piece it together.
By the end, when the Green Hornet is chasing a USB flash drive shaped like a piece of sushi around an office, you have to wonder who is really getting stung, the bad guys or the audience. The utter disregard for life in the film – the ”good” guys do an awful lot of killing – is shared by the filmmakers. How else can you explain their careless wasting nearly two hours of life spent watching The Green Hornet?