Well, it might have worked. There are moments, though not exactly whole scenes, in the new Seth Rogen film The Green Hornet when we get a glimpse of how this long-gestating movie might have been a kick, a refreshing change from the ponderously self-important superhero movies of the past decade.
The high point might be the opening scene, before the stars arrive on screen. Christoph Waltz, the suave villain of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, plays Los Angeles's meanest drug dealer and villain, facing a middle-aged crisis as well as a swaggering young upstart (a sneak cameo by a Spider-Man alumnus and one of Seth Rogen's former co-stars). The silly but deftly turned dialogue is enough to raise hopes that a genre overdue for a smart spoofing is about to get its due.
The Green Hornet is directed by Michel Gondry, known for his playful philosophical sensibility ( The Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Though he was first attached to the film back in the nineties, since then it has been associated with a string of different directors, stars and concepts. To its credit, the studio didn't go the conventional route.
Gondry's improbable creative partner here is writer-actor Seth Rogen ( Superbad, Pineapple Express), the breakout star of the Judd Apatow school of raunchy-but-amiable bromances, who serves here not only as the star, but co-writer and executive producer with his creative partner, Evan Goldberg.
Instead of magical creative synergy, what happens here feels sad. Rather than a meeting of talents, we get a stand-off, an ungainly stop-and-start compromise between action and comedy: Juvenile verbal jousting, bombastic action, more juvenile humour, typically recapping what just happened. Gondry shows little evidence of his usually distinctive visual style, falling into the slick, antic style of mediocre action movies, and the 3-D effects, added in post-production, contribute little beyond an increase in the ticket prices.
The story is based on a 1930s radio show, conceived by Lone Ranger creator George Trendle, which subsequently became a comic book, a couple of movie serials and a one-season television show that introduced Bruce Lee to Western audiences in the 1960s. The role of the Green Hornet, Britt Reid, the heir to a Los Angeles publishing fortune, has been refitted for Rogen's hard-partying slacker persona.
When his harsh father (Tom Wilkinson) dies suddenly, Britt is, in theory, compelled to grow up and accept adult responsibility, using the paper to fight for justice in a city mired in crime and corruption. Instead, he prefers to hang out with his dad's coffee-maker and ingenious mechanic, Kato (Taiwanese pop star and actor Jay Chou) in his old man's tricked-out black Chrysler Imperial. Along the way, they can pose as bad guys in order to infiltrate the world of real bad guys and enjoy a secret fantasy life as masked vigilantes.
There's the germ of a good idea here, as Rogen and Goldberg's script chooses not to ignore the childish wish-fulfilment aspect of superhero stories. But instead of exploring arrested development, it celebrates it. The one-note joke here is that there's a major discrepancy between the would-be superhero, the ungainly Rogen as the Green Hornet, and his far more capable and cooler sidekick. It gets repeated endlessly.
Kato, who knows martial arts and has special vision that slows down the action (the brief effective use of 3-D), is clearly the genius, while Britt is the self-deluded front man. As a co-star, Chou is sleekly handsome, and enough of a pop star to help sell the movie in Asia, but his English is sometimes hard to understand. Rogen, who, while slimmed down, sticks to his familiar role as the wisecracking observer.
We wait, and wait, for this relationship to evolve. Instead, we have too much dull banter about the proper roles of heroes and sidekicks, and mocking the latently homo-erotic relationship between the two ("No tights," they agree.). By the time The Green Hornet collapses into a mess of hackneyed car chases and flying glass and bullets, it feels less like the promised irreverent take on the superhero genre, and more like the latest iteration of the Rush Hour movies.
The Green Hornet
- Directed by Michel Gondry
- Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
- Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou and Cameron Diaz
- Classification: PG