Review in a Hurry: More comedic than a serious adaptation of the pulp hero, this Hornet is mostly Seth Rogen's show. Eccentric director Michel Gondry occasionally shows unique flourishes, and newcomer Jay Chou delivers an impressive breakthrough performance as a comedic foil--just don't call him a sidekick.
The Bigger Picture: Like a less-profane version of Kick-Ass, The Green Hornet imagines a real-world character acting out superhero tropes, only to discover an unlikely ally who really does have the training of a master...and the dangers of fighting crime without powers. Our regular guy is Britt Reid (Rogen), the spoiled heir to a successful newspaper empire (how quaint!) who likes to get drunk and rowdy, but who also has a yen to beat up bullies.
When his father dies, Reid suddenly gets to know the late magnate's servant Kato (Chou), who pours a mean cup of coffee, is a master of sci-fi mechanics and can kick major butt in slow motion. Fortunately, he also likes to get drunk and rowdy, and thus does he bond with Britt over a reckless prank that inspires them to go further down the crime-fighting path. But there's a twist to it: The Green Hornet will be portrayed as a villain. Meanwhile, he'll actually be going after criminals, while the Reid family newspapers hype the Hornet as a major threat.
Though the Green Hornet was originally a radio-drama hero of the '30s, it goes without saying by now that he is hardly portrayed as such here--that particular road to box-office hell is paved by such well-intentioned flops as The Shadow and The Phantom. Yet the film is weirdly retro, in a scattershot way: '90s music videos are featured, '80s songs appear on the soundtrack at appropriately '80s moments, '70s-style split screen is used at a key point, record players are fetishized and there are lovingly quaint paeans to print journalism. At one point, the Green Hornet is literally protected by a giant roll of newsprint.
Rogen may have lost weight for this role, but it hardly matters--he's still doing a more charming version of Butt-Head, aged twentysomething. You know by now if that works for you or not. Chou is more impressive, taking a stock role made famous by Bruce Lee and adding petulance, ego and libido to what might otherwise be a token position. Cameron Diaz gets a few moments to shine as Rogen's assistant who quips back at her boss' adolescent humor. But unfortunately, Inglourious Basterds' Christoph Waltz isn't given quite as much time to develop as we would have liked in his role as insecure criminal mastermind Benjamin Chudnofsky; this may, in fact, be the first superhero movie of the modern age where the villain is almost beside the point.
Hornet purists--all 12 of you--might be disappointed. Those looking for dumb fun will find many rewards.
The 180--a Second Opinion: For all Gondry's talk about how much better he's done with converting 2-D footage to 3-D, that aspect still falls short. Some of the martial arts stuff looks great; the rest, so-so. And the soundtrack, aside from one hilarious parody/homage moment, feels too much like Gondry's iPod on shuffle.
(Originally published Jan. 13, 2011, at 5:50 p.m. PT)