A mighty army of actors, directors, and writers have been bested in recent years by The Green Hornet. Strong men have crumbled attempting to advance the story of the titular masked vigilante, transforming him from an unironic 1930s radio personality and, briefly, a 1960s TV diversion (during which the martial-arts phenom Bruce Lee played sidekick/driver Kato) to a movie character suited to our wised-up, superhero-sated times. Now, after a long development-hell history during which George Clooney and Kevin Smith (among others) separately came and went as star and director, Seth Rogen bellows, barges, and stumbles in. If unmodulated decibel level and childish, dorkish energy alone could lower a city's crime rate, then consider the cartoon bad guys of cartoon Los Angeles flattened. Both in nighttime drag and in his daytime identity as newspaper publisher Britt Reid, Rogen's Green Hornet is the first movie superhero to whom an otherwise grateful populace begs to say, Ssshhhhhh. Not so loud.
I suspect the newest Hornet thinks he's got to shout because there's so much tonal cacophony in this production, directed with random visual tricks by Michel Gondry, the music-video stylist who made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. While Rogen brays, Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou struggles with his newly learned English as Kato. (Once upon a time, Jet Li was booked for the role.) As Reid's brainy-beauty secretary Lenore, Cameron Diaz struggles to fit in with a production that has no use for girls. And in a riff on his Oscar-winning performance as Nazi Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds' invaluable Christoph Waltz plays an over-the-top villain (in a villainously ugly jacket) who controls all the gangs of L.A., at least until GH and Kato drive into town in their indestructible Hornetmobile known as the Black Beauty. With apparently little directorial guidance, Waltz sensibly decided to have fun and hope for the best. (His role briefly belonged to Nicolas Cage.) In a last-minute tweak, the production has also been meaninglessly 3-D-ified never mind that there's nothing whatsoever 3-D-ish going on. Maybe those clumsy 3-D glasses are meant to let moviegoers mimic the superhero mask-wearing experience? At any rate, they let moviegoers pay more for a ticket.
Of course, there's little point in giving Rogen the reins (he's also the co-writer and coexecutive producer, along with his longtime creative partner Evan Goldberg) if the star can't buzz with the brand of high spirits and poor impulse control that has already won him so many fans. Even slimmed down and groomed up, the guy embodies the funny schlub at the party who doesn't understand the ladies but has some hilarious adventures with the gents. I figure by the time Rogen came into the mix, anything new probably sounded good, including the notion of Britt Reid 2.0 as a spoiled, bored, rich party boy whose relationship with Kato is something between a bromance and a schoolyard competition. As it turns out, despite their best efforts, Rogen, and Gondry too, have gotten stung by the Green Hornet, outwitted by this hardy hanger-on in pop culture's evolution. C–