Review: Generic 'Green Hornet' has no sting

Updated: 2011-01-12 14:14


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Review: Generic 'Green Hornet' has no sting

Someday — someday soon, hopefully — 3-D will be exposed for the sham that it is.

We will all realize that, for the vast majority of films, shooting in or converting to 3-D offers absolutely nothing from a narrative standpoint, and very little visually; all this gimmick really adds is money at the box office through higher ticket prices. And, perhaps, the sanctity of the art form might be restored once more.

This is probably just wishful thinking, of course. But until that blessed day comes, we will continue to be bombarded with mediocre action pictures like "The Green Hornet."

It didn't have to be this way. There was reason for hope.

"The Green Hornet" comes from director Michel Gondry, who's known for telling imaginative stories with inspired visuals. Gondry's previous films include "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "The Science of Sleep," and — like so many feature filmmakers these days — he made his name with striking music videos. (His work with The White Stripes alone is legendary.)

Hearing his name attached to a big, studio superhero movie — starring Seth Rogen, of all people — may have sounded incongruent, but at least it was intriguing, and it held the promise of ingenuity and artistry. We might have been in for something fresh and daring. Instead, Gondry has come up with a surprisingly generic, bombastic action movie. Except for a few sequences that carry a bit of his flair, this could have been made by anyone.

That the script came from Rogen and Evan Goldberg — who also co-wrote the raunchy-but-sweet "Superbad," inspired by their longtime friendship — also suggested a different kind of superhero. And indeed, the first half seems as if it were intended to play like a Judd Apatow-style bromance, only with elaborate gadgetry. But as the film wears on, it devolves into a numbing onslaught of automatic weapon fire, shattered glass and explosions. Just as it should be reaching an engrossing climax, it grows more repellant.

Based on the 1930s radio show, "The Green Hornet" stars Rogen as Britt Reid, playboy heir to the Los Angeles publishing empire built by his father (Tom Wilkinson, relegated to a one-note role in just a couple of scenes). But when his father dies suddenly, Britt realizes he has a chance to use his fortune for good, and makes the impetuous decision to become a vigilante crime fighter by night. With the help of his father's mechanic, the soft-spoken but ever-resourceful Kato (Taiwan pop star Jay Chou), Britt devises a persona, costumes, a whole secret, adventurous life.

Truthfully, Kato comes up with all this stuff, although Britt repeatedly claims he's the star of the operation and dismisses Kato as merely the sidekick. The dynamic between the two should be giddily infectious, or at least endearing; we should be itching to go along for the ride in one of their many tricked-out cars. Instead, a slimmed-down Rogen is just playing a version of the good-natured, wisecracking slacker he plays in everything, which never feels like a comfortable fit alongside the coolly efficient Chou. Having an actor with some depth and range — like, say, Robert Downey Jr. in the "Iron Man" movies — can elevate this kind of playful material. Rogen simply doesn't have it, which further highlights the flimsiness of the script.

Cameron Diaz once again plays a seemingly ditzy blonde who turns out to have a brain as Britt's secretary, Lenore Case. And Christoph Waltz, an Oscar winner for his chilling supporting performance in "Inglourious Basterds," has a few amusing moments as a villain suffering through a mid-life crisis; he actually gets to take part in the film's best scene, which occurs right at the top and features a cameo from an old Rogen friend. But the majority of the bumbling goings-on here seem beneath him.

As for those 3-D effects, which were shot in 2-D and then converted? All the usual stuff: glass shards and bullet casings and flames flying at the screen, but nothing that ever pierces the heart or mind.

"The Green Hornet," a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content. Running time: 118 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.


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