If The Green Hornet were a car, it would be less like the lethally loaded '65 black Chrysler Imperial driven by the film's heroes and more like the homonymous shitbox discontinued by Dodge in 1987. The otherwise talented screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and the sometimes inspired director Michel Gondry have taken the generic shell of a not-very-interesting '30s radio show and inexplicably cultish one-season '60s TV series and tarted it up with CGI, slow motion, time-lapse pixilation, a "Kato cam" that's like The Matrix effects crossed with the Terminator's cyborg point of view, numerous unimaginative explosions, car chases, and gunfights, and a puzzling motif of bad guys killed by heavy falling objects. Throw in so many ripoffs from every superhero film ever made, it may be pointless to list them — though I probably will anyway. Put on a pair of 3D glasses and it's like watching 118 minutes of noisy trailers from underneath a thin, dark blanket.
Okay, it's not that bad. There are one or two action scenes, like the prolonged brawl between Kato and Britt Reid, replete with Three Stooges–like sound effects, that unroll with satisfying logic and ingenuity. And the badinage between Rogen's Reid, a/k/a the Green Hornet, and Jay Chou's Kato, a/k/a Kato, though not as funny as the Rogen–James Franco match-up in Pineapple Express, still has its moments. Until it starts to sound like Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon.
It's the same dynamic: the loudmouthed feckless white guy and the seemingly subordinate, stereotypical-but-in-a-sort-of-satirical-way Asian martial-arts expert. And it's the same dynamic as in Iron Man, with Reid reacting to his dead father's lack of approval by becoming a superhero rigged out with fancy gadgets — though in this case they're invented by his sidekick, not himself. On the other hand, Reid is inept as a self-invented superhero, so maybe the film falls more along the lines of Kick-Ass. But then there's the newspaper that mounts a campaign against him, vilifying him as a bad guy, just as in Spider-Man, except that here Reid is also the paper's publisher, so he's like Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson combined. As for Christoph Waltz as crime kingpin Chudnofsky, he ain't no Joker, just further proof that the Best Supporting Actor Oscar is a career killer.
In short, The Green Hornet is the usual numbing, postmodern pastiche — which is ironic, since the premise is supposed to be retro, a throwback to a simpler, less synthetic analog age done in digital style. What could be more quaint, after all, than print journalism? I especially enjoyed the way the Green Hornet takes shelter from a fusillade of bullets behind a giant roll of newsprint. Another clever, reflexive touch is Reid's secretary, Lenore Case, played with listless spunk by Cameron Diaz: she unwittingly provides "research" for the hapless pair of do-gooders and so helps them figure out what to do next. In effect, she's writing the screenplay. We're told she has degrees in journalism and criminology, but it seems that everything she knows she learned from watching movies.
The Green Hornet | Directed by Michel Gondry | Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg based on the radio series created by George W. Trendle | with Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Tom Wilkinson, Christoph Waltz, Edward James Olmos, David Howard, and Edward Furlong | Columbia Pictures | 118 minutes