With so many cookie-cutter superhero movies knocking around these days, there was a burr of excitement when it was announced that Seth Rogen would bring his deceptively smart take on fratboy humour and his Sid James chuckle to the tale of The Green Hornet, the latest billionaire-playboy-turned-masked-crimefighter to leave the clubhouse.
Then, after a brief flirtation with Kung Fu Hustle’s Stephen Chow as both director and Kato (the Hornet’s sidekick, immortalised by Bruce Lee in the ’60s TV show), the skittery genius of Michel Gondry climbed on board to direct. With his offbeat visual sensibilities coupled with Rogen’s nyuck-nyucks, the touchpaper was surely lit.
But, sad to report, it seems to have fizzled out. There are several moments here when it feels like a Michel Gondry movie — a speeded-up Benny Hill-style single shot where Reid takes a random girl on a snogging tour of his many, many prize cars; and a stunning split-screen array of tracking shots as the villains of LA rise up against the Hornet — but too often scenes just sit there, limp and directionless, as if they could have been directed by any studio-mandated beard and baseball cap. For the most part, it feels like a director trying — and failing — to imprint his style upon material a world away from the homespun delights he usually churns out.
So can Rogen and his writing partner, Evan Goldberg, save the day? In short, no. Their honourable intention from the off is to mess with the conventions of the genre — Reid (Rogen) and Kato (Jay Chou) don’t embark on crimefighting careers because of altruistic desires, but because they get drunk and think it would be a laugh. But, while Rogen and Goldberg twisted the teen comedy and action film to their own devices with Superbad and Pineapple Express, here their choices seem less assured — poor old Christoph Waltz’s Chudnofsky isn’t so much a character as a quirk with lines (and let’s not even get started on Cameron Diaz’s underwritten secretary). Rogen is his usual self as Reid, although the fact that the Hornet remains a buffoon throughout gets very old, very fast. As a result, he’s outshone by the appealing Chou, who may struggle with any sentence longer than seven words, but who kicks ass in a manner worthy of Bruce Lee.
In fact, it’s Kick-Ass which The Green Hornet most closely resembles in structure and plot points, even down to the idea of a bad guy being seduced by the idea of being a supervillain. But there the comparisons end. In terms of energy, verve, wit and genuinely exciting action sequences, the Green Hornet — oh, go on then — simply doesn’t have a sting.