Michel Gondry, the imaginative maker of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, and Be Kind Rewind, makes whimsical, rueful movies about losers who find themselves in their fantasies.
Hiring this sensitive fantasist to make the superhero saga The Green Hornet is like hiring satirist John Waters to make Rambo. Hard to think of a more mystifying mismatch of filmmaker and material.
Seth Rogen cowrote and costars in the movie that aims for irreverence and settles for irrelevance. He plays Britt Reid, spoiled rich kid, who inherits Daddy's publishing empire when the old man (Tom Wilkinson) passes away.
As with the equally misbegotten 1960s TV show based on George Trendle's 1930s radio series, the only memorable aspects of The Green Hornet are Britt Reid's sidekick, Kato, and his ride, a pimped-out, 1966 Chrysler Imperial, the Black Beauty.
Bruce Lee was the TV Kato; Taiwan pop star Jay Chou, Buster Keaton in a Beatles haircut, is the movie Kato, an imaginative mechanic and deft martial artist who is both brains and muscle of the duo. ("You're a human Swiss army knife!" Britt says to him.)
The movie's one nice conceit is that bombastic Britt, egomaniac and credit hog, by the middle of the film concedes that Kato is his equal and, by the end, probably his superior.
(When Kung Fu Hustle director Stephen Chow was attached to direct the movie he wanted Kato to implant a microchip in Britt's brain and operate him with a joystick. That's a better comic idea than anything here.)
One night as Britt and Kato go out for a joyride, they become accidental do-gooders when they save innocents from gangbangers. To battle the crime wave crashing L.A.'s shores, they invent the alter ego of "Green Hornet," a good guy the public believes is a bad guy.
As the publisher of the Daily Sentinel, boorish Britt orders his editors to write about the Hornet's exploits. This gets the attention of Chudnowsky (Christoph Waltz), a Russian druglord, who thinks the Hornet is trespassing on his turf.
The enterprising Waltz (who shares an amusing scene with an unbilled James Franco at the beginning of the film) has little to do. Cameron Diaz as Lenore, Britt's Gal Friday, has even less.
The plot mechanics overwhelm Gondry, who fails to put his stamp on the material and rein in Rogen. Of the shambling screenplay one might well ask, Seth, where is thy sting?