Perhaps some superheroes are better left a product of their time, because much like Dick Tracy and The Shadow in the 1990s, The Green Hornet plays more like a quaint relic of a bygone era than a dynamic reinvention of a classic crime fighter as conceived by some of the hottest talents in Hollywood. Overlong, lacking enough momentum to be truly exciting, and largely devoid of director Michel Gondry's inventive signature style, it's entertaining in fits, but continually falls short of reaching its full potential.
The hard-partying son of L.A.'s most powerful media magnate realizes his true calling as a crime-fighting vigilante after his father perishes under suspicious circumstances in this big-screen adaptation of the popular radio serial, comic book, film, and television series originated by Lone Ranger creators Fran Striker and George W. Trendle. James Reid (Tom Wilkinson) single-handedly built a media empire, but unfortunately, his industrious genes weren't passed down to his son, Britt (Seth Rogen). Irresponsible, slovenly, and frequently inebriated, Britt is shaken out of his drunken stupor upon receiving word that his father has died. Shortly after Britt learns that he has inherited the family business, he forges an unlikely alliance with Kato (Jay Chou), one of his father's star employees, and together the pair hatches a plan to pose as villains in order to get close to the city's most high-powered criminals. Outfitting their indestructible custom-made car, The Black Beauty, with the absolute latest in technology and high-tech weaponry -- and arming themselves to the teeth with an array of gadgets that would make Batman blush -- the masked duo hits the streets as The Green Hornet and Kato. As the public's fascination with the mysterious crime fighters hits an all-time high, Britt's resourceful new secretary, Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), unwittingly helps them to gather the intelligence that will help them take down notorious underworld kingpin Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), a criminal who holds the entire city in the palm of his hand, and represents everything that Britt's father fought against. Little do the Green Hornet and Kato realize that Chudnofsky is already on to them, and he's got a diabolical plan to gain the upper hand over the city's newest sentinels.
Looking at the history of the production, it quickly becomes clear that the whole endeavor had an aura of doom from the very beginning. As far back as the early '90s, Hollywood was attempting to resurrect the vigilante hero for his first big-screen adventure, but neither the studios nor the screenwriters and filmmakers seemed certain of how to approach the project. Though Gondry had been set to make his feature directorial debut with The Green Hornet back in 1997, it soon began to bounce like a hot potato from the hands of Kevin Smith to Stephen Chow, and eventually came full circle back to Gondry before Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were ultimately brought in to pen a screenplay from scratch -- despite the fact that everyone from Edward Neumeier (Robocop, Starship Troopers) to Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) had already taken a crack at it.
Regrettably, the version of The Green Hornet that we're left with comes up short in just about every respect; from the inconsistent mix of action and comedy to outdated plot mechanics and a suspiciously subdued visual style, it lacks the inspiration to be anything more than mildly entertaining. Perhaps these imperfections wouldn't have been so pronounced had the film fumbled from the very beginning, but the fact that The Green Hornet is actually bookended by some genuinely enjoyable sequences only serves to highlight its languid midsection. The burgeoning hero/sidekick dynamic between the Green Hornet and Kato as they establish the boundaries of their partnership gives the early scenes an infectiously playful tone (much like they did in their breakthrough hit, Superbad, screenwriters Rogen and Goldberg once again display their knack for penning snappy buddy banter); however, as with Gondry's stylized direction during the setup, it gradually dissipates as the plot develops, only regaining its original drive as the film careens toward an explosive climax nearly an hour later. By that point, it has long become apparent that the story isn't headed anywhere original or interesting, but instead relies on antiquated developments that would have felt overly familiar back when Bruce Lee was playing the resourceful chauffeur. And though Waltz hams it up to the fullest while emphasizing the insecurities of his volatile miscreant mastermind, it's nothing we haven't seen before, and lacks the diabolical punch to make the villain genuinely compelling. The less said about Diaz the better, as she's little more than a device to keep the plot moving forward and to provide a convoluted character conflict for our heroes.
In regard to the 3D used in the film, moviegoers who like to complain that the current trend is little more than an excuse to jack up ticket prices are only likely to have more ammo for their argument after seeing how the process is implemented in The Green Hornet. Perhaps if Gondry had genuinely flexed his creative might, we may have gotten a movie that would truly make our pupils pop, but aside from one dazzling (and all too brief) third-act scene in which the hero puts the pieces of the puzzle together, there's precious little in the film that even approaches the striking style of his best work.
Of course, it's never fair to judge a film based on expectations, yet given the exceptional talent of the creative powers behind The Green Hornet, it's difficult to deny that this action comedy should have been far funnier and more exhilarating than it actually is. Whether that's a result of the turbulent production history or simply a mismatched jumble of talents, we may never know; the only thing that's certain is that it lacks both the bite and the sting to make the character relevant again in the 21st century.