The Green Hornet isn't going to be remembered for much. Sure, it's the low point of director Michel Gondry's mostly brilliant career and another in the long list of pedestrian action movies retrofitted with cheap, unnecessary 3D, but these things come and go; Gondry will make another film, and Drive Angry is on the horizon, ready to hit theatres before this film makes it to 3DTV tie-in title. Sure as the Earth turns, there will be other movies just as underwhelming as the Green Hornet. Thing is, few will have the credentials Green Hornet had. Seth Rogen wrote Pineapple Express and Superbad, which may have worn out their welcome by the time every frat boy in America had memorized all the McLovin bits, but seemed proof of a genuinely funny guy who could do little wrong.
Seth Rogen: Britt Reed (The Green Hornet)
Jay Chou: Kato
Cameron Diaz: Lenore Case
James Reid: Tom Wilkinson
Chudnofsky: Christoph Waltz
Shut the Fuck Up, Donny
Lots of things are wrong with Green Hornet, and most of it surrounds Rogen. As Britt Reed, he is a swaggering jerk of a man, a party-animal-turned-superhero. It's not that I have anything against that--Spiderman was kind of a jerk until his uncle died, Superman needed boring parents to teach him not to abuse his powers, and I'm sure Batman whined a lot as a kid--but man is it hard to watch Britt do anything without wanting to punch him in the mouth. He's a jerk because his life is a constant rebellion against his father (Tom Wilkinson), a newspaper magnate who tells him from a young age that trying things isn't worth squat if you fail miserably. He throws himself into partying and is pretty successful. This, too, is a source is disappointment.
Then his father dies, leaving the newspaper to Britt. It's pretty obvious that a paper helmed by Britt is going to fail, but he makes a go of it anyway, occupying his office and attending editorial meetings and making a few hires here and there. There's hardly anything at risk here because his paper, one of the few family-owned rags left in Los Angeles (indeed, the world), has been floundering of late. Violent, gang-related crime is ravaging the city, but it goes unreported. Britt eventually stumbles into a gig that could help others and help sell his paper: The Green Hornet, a supposed gang leader who's really a good guy.
How he gets there doesn't really matter, but it's important to know that Britt hardly does any of the work. He is backed by Kato (Jay Chou), who had the unlikely dual role of his father's mechanic and personal barista. In addition to those talents, he's a draftsman, engineer, and one hell of a martial artist--he can slow down time and target an opponent's weaknesses or weapons the same way the Predator targets his prey. He does all the heavy lifting, but the media gives credit to the Green Hornet. Britt's paper ratchets up coverage of the emerging super villain, which draws the ire of Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), who until this point has managed to unify L.A.'s gangs.
What I've described is a generic action comedy, but The Green Hornet is full-on desperate for you to love it. At least I imagine that's why Seth Rogen yells every line of self-penned dialog, as if he believes that volume adds humor. But half the time he's a big white dude subjugating a smaller Asian dude to his will, and the other half of the time he's a desperate sexist trying to get into his secretary's pants. You'd feel sorry for Kato if he wasn't also kind of a jerk, and poor Lenore (Cameron Diaz) is just there to smile and be frazzled by Britt's advances, in that order. Mostly, I feel bad for Chudnofsky, an old school gangster with a bad name and an insecurity complex. Nobody pays attention to him (probably a boon for a crime boss, but whatever), so he changes his name to Bloodnofsky and comes up with a catchphrase. He's a villain who wasn't made for these times.
And I guess I feel for Michel Gondry, too. Robbed of the sentimentality and lo-fi charms of his best work, it's obvious that he isn't the right director for a movie about shouty American jerks. It might have worked as a con-job, a Frenchman and an American comedian teaming up for a satire of the superhero origin story in the vein of parodies like Last Action Hero, but the script is wooden and unyielding; at no point is anybody allowed to do something new, unexpected, or momentarily exciting. At one point, Britt throws Kato into a pool and, before firing him, is courteous enough to throw an inflatable raft to his drowning friend. The Green Hornet is a lot like Kato in the pool, only nobody is there to throw it a raft.