French filmmaker Michel Gondry is an odd choice to direct a wide-release, big-budget, superhero action movie. Best known for his beloved, tortured romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Gondry's filmography — The Science of Sleep, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, Be Kind Rewind — types arty, dreamy, left-of-center.
The fact that Gondry was ultimately tabbed for the long-gestating The Green Hornet suggests that it is not meant to be a typical superhero film. And if Gondry was ever going to do a film like this, the subject is probably a good match. A Depression-era creation that predates (and, in the latter case, perhaps predicts) Superman and Batman and is probably best known for a short-lived ’60s television series co-starring a young Bruce Lee, the Green Hornet is a marginal, romantic, underdog figure in the cosmos of costumed crusaders.
Certainly, the film's off-kilter leads — comic actor Seth Rogen (who, with partner Evan Goldberg, also co-wrote) as the Hornet and Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou as his gifted servant/sidekick Kato — fit this notion of an alternative superhero film, as does the film's rambling, comic tone.
Rogen lost weight for the role but otherwise plays the Hornet altar ego Britt Reid — the scion of a newspaper tycoon who morphs into crime fighter after his father's death — as a variation on the comical slob familiar from Knocked Up, but tweaked from well-intentioned slacker to privileged asshole. But as "human Swiss Army Knife" Kato — papa Reid's mechanic/barista until his deeper talents are discovered by Britt — the engaging Chou is perhaps the film's true comic focus. (Cameron Diaz and Inglorious Basterds Oscar-winner Christoph Walz round out the core cast with awkward appearances.)
If this pairing of leads and director is promising, The Green Hornet never lives up to this potential. It would have been interesting to see Gondry tackle the superhero actioner as something approaching the charming, homemade movie remakes featured in Be Kind Rewind. And there are stray elements when directoral personality pops through. Among the gadgets Kato crafts for the duo's Batmobile-esque vehicle is an on-board record player, where he can spin classical vinyl. And when the movie leaps — too briefly — into a citywide manhunt a la M, Gondry visualizes it by filling the screen with multiplying tiled images of the action.
Yet, The Green Hornet gives the sense that there was just too much money at stake to let Gondry be Gondry.
Gondry is at his best with whimsical, low-tech, tactile effects and a Gondry action move should be something of an anti-action movie. The Green Hornet is that in tone, but most of the actual on-screen action too often tends toward the conventional — darkly lit, quickly edited, noisy, and indistinct sequences packed with car crashes and torrents of gunfire.
And this miscalculation is amplified by mostly purposeless and distracting 3D retrofitting. I was forced to watch The Green Hornet in 3D at a free advance screening. But there's no reason you should pay the extra premium to do so. I'd highly recommend seeing it — if you see it at all — in normal format.
In a year that portends new lows for the genre — at least if trailers for Thor and The Green Lantern are to be believed — The Green Hornet may yet age well. But it's hard not to see it as a compromise, an agreeable disappointment. The only time it achieves true style — and gives the 3D a purpose — is in the closing credits. The Green Hornet Now playing Multiple locations