By Drew Taylor | The Playlist January 12, 2011 at 3:28AM
Certainly Gondry's least successful picture (read: worst), not to mention Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's most poorly scripted effort (a near embarrassment at times for what it tries to pass off as humor and motivation for points of action), from a directorial standpoint it's a completely banal effort because the filmmaker's attempts at mimicking studio populism fail wholeheartedly. Or perhaps it succeeds, because other than a few sequences that have the overtly obvious Michel Gondry stamp on them (these scenes pretty much bring the movie screaming to a halt and might as well have a spotlight announce a Michel Gondry visual show), the director does his best to convince you this is a Steven Seagal action film, with the same flimsy plot used to simply get characters to kick-ass and fight. Truthfully, most of the failure must land on the shoulders of Sony, Rogen and Goldberg. "The Green Hornet" script is pitiful in many ways and one of the most obviously disjointed ones we've seen onscreen in years. Sony should have pulled some quality control measures and never allowed this-still-in-building-blocks stage project to hit the screen, and Rogen and Goldberg have penned their first genuine bomb (guys, you should have known better). Frankly, this is Kevin Smith "Cop Out" territory -- talented people clearly out of their element or compromising beyond the levels of good sense (given every interview of late, it sounds like Michel Gondry tried to over-prove his tentpole mettle).
The movie gets off to a thunderously dead start, with a brief flashback showing a young Britt Reid (played for the majority of the film by Seth Rogen) being reprimanded by his father, a mercurial newspaper magnate (Tom Wilkinson), for trying to stop a schoolyard bully. We then flash-forward to arguably the most entertaining sequence, wherein a local villain (played by a big-name cameo we won't reveal here) faces off against the old guard, a gangster named Chudnofsky (played by Christoph Waltz, recycling much of his Oscar-winning "Inglourious Basterds" shtick; the running-gag about Chudnofsky pronunciation is groan-worthy). The sequence is genuinely funny and bristles with an offbeat sense of humor. But then that scene is over and the movie proper begins and, as each minute ticks by, any hope for something above the most middling action movie, dwindles until you're ultimately resigned to the fact that you have just witnessed one of the biggest Hollywood follies in recent memory.
Back to the story (we're getting ahead of ourselves): Reid, now fully grown into the lumpy, oafish rich-spoiled man-child that Rogen specializes in (dude has range), is a party machine interested only in booze and loose women. His father reprimands him for being a lumpy, oafish man-child, and just as quickly vanishes. Shortly afterwards, Britt learns that his father has died of a bee-sting-related incident and has left his son in control of his vast fortune and newspaper. Instead of offering a crisis of conscience, or causing him to spring into some kind of proactive mode, Britt continues to be a total douchebag (and not the kind of loveable douchebag that you can still see yourself mustering enthusiasm for – just a vile fucking person). The only reason that Britt even makes contact with Kato> (Jay Chou, a Taiwanese pop star) is because Kato makes Britt's coffee just the way he likes it (no, really, these are the plot points as written), and after Kato shows Britt his super cool coffee maker, it leads them into a bro-mantic interlude wherein Kato also shows off his other cool inventions, including a car with bullet proof glass and gadgets galore (again, no really). These early scenes are sort of cute if you're teenager, but you still can't shake what an asshole Britt is, and just how poorly stitched together the film is from scene to scene. These early sequences, with the two men bonding, could have used a little more zip but frankly there's not much you can do when the duo have almost zero chemistry. One has to wonder what the filmmakers were thinking.
The impetus for the duo becoming superheroes, disguised as supervillains, isn't some grand call to justice or even the flimsy, tired tropes of revenge or loyalty. Nope. Their quest begins out of boredom. They go from sitting on the couch to stopping crime. And then back to the couch. Now would be a good time to discuss Gondry's chops as an action director, since the first time Britt and Kato (mostly Kato) stop crime, it's visually dynamic, with Kato zeroing in on the bad guys and their weapons and using his heightened reflexes to slow down time while he whoops ass. However, its basically a hamfisted video-game conceit and the picture has to start and stop for these tonally different and almost out-of-place action sequences. While not exactly like the visionary "bullet time" eye candy of "The Matrix," there are some nice flourishes if you're just here to admire technical visual tricks, like when Kato kicks a baddie over the hood of a car that expands to being five cars (wait, what's the point here, other than for the 3D to look "cooler"?). But these kaleidoscopic effects aren't ever used with any real potency and essentially amount to flashy, computer-assisted wow and flutter (sparkle for geeks who will likely "ooh" and "ahh" and mistake this for a good movie).
But those scenes are also a bit of a saving grace, because once we actually get out of those Gondry moments we're faced with more groan-inducing repetition and amateur-league exposition. Countless times (many of them dubbed after the fact as clunky ADR) Seth Rogen shouts and points and says "That's what we need!" or "That's where we're going!"), as the movie burps along in fits and starts, there seems like there might be potential for some thematic development. For example, the villain Chudnofsky is having a midlife crisis, fearful of his obsolescence and Britt runs a newspaper, an entire industry clamoring under the weight of its impending demise. But are parallels drawn? No. Not at all. Is there any subversion of the superhero genre? Nope, none of that either. So what is there?
Well, there's Cameron Diaz, who basically shows up so that the movie's restless misogyny has something to aim at. As Britt's temporary secretary, the masked duo use her for researching purposes and…..that's about it. Otherwise, she's there to give the bumbling superheroes some direction in the second act and to provide a target for Britt and Kato's verbal volleys and insults which are painfully unfunny.
By the time the movie reaches its jaw-droppingly cacophonous conclusion (wherein a bunch of bad guys chase our heroes into the newspaper's headquarters amongst a chaos of bullets, bazookas and other nonsense), you'll probably be exhausted, bored and slightly infuriated. You'll likely not want to see Seth Rogen on a credit sheet as actor or writer anytime in the near future, and the sinking feeling that Michel Gondry is a one-hit wonder ("Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind") will sit uneasily in your stomach next to the popcorn and Milk Duds. Filmmaking basics such as narrative cohesion and basic storytelling principles seem to be avoided in favor of visual trickery and video art project effects. And this would be fine if it served a purpose, but when surrounded by a film flailing to be entertaining, funny or even tolerable it largely plays like window dressing for a movie everyone knows is widely missing the mark.
From the awful James Newton Howard action-sitcom score (congratulations, Michael Giacchino, you are now popular enough to be very poorly ripped off) to the awful assemblage of pop songs that collide into one another, to the baggy, unstructured mess of the narrative, "The Green Hornet" is a near-atrocity and a miserable experience. Rogen, Gondry, and company were promising the reinvention of the already-stale superhero genre but instead, with a self-satisfied smirk, they deliver another rote superhero movie that's just as formulaic and dumb as the rest. It stings alright, but not in the way you want it to. [D]