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“The Green Hornet” is a fitfully effective mess

The Green Hornet

Directed by Michel Gondry

Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

Trapped between parody and homage, open mean-spritedness and gentle ribbing, Hollywood streamlining and Euro quirk, Michel Gondry’s long-delayed, perpetually troubled version of The Green Hornet is a mess. A two-hour blur of “wouldn’t it be cool if” moments, occasionally perked up by moments of genuine comic verve and Gondry’s bag of music-video tricks, Hornet attempts to merge Gondry’s brand of wacky cinematic flair with star and co-writer Seth Rogen’s muggy charm, only to come off as a bizarre clash of unrelated ideas.

Rogen stars as Britt Reid, the spoiled son of a very wealthy media magnate (Tom Wilkinson), who inherits his father’s newspaper following his apparently accidental death by bee sting. Before long, he meets his father’s most valued assistant, Kato (Jay Chou), a jack-of-all-trades engineer and martial artist, and Britt decides to forgo his life of luxury in order to combat LA’s rampant culture of crime by posing as criminals and taking out the competition – a plan that sets them against a neurotic supervillain by the name of Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz).

For a while, it seems like Hornet might just work. Rogen and Chou have a fun sense of chemistry, Waltz is amusingly eccentric, and an early fight sequence displays Gondry’s visual flair with dazzling use of slow-motion and careful choreography. After the first hour or so, though, things degrade badly – Waltz begins to grate, a few too many plot elements (a corruption scandal, a love interest, a spat) pad the length by at least a half-hour, and the jokes start to fall a little flatter. The film’s greatest problem, besides its inflated length, is its tonal anarchy – Gondry and Rogen may not have seen eye-to-eye on whether their Hornet was a Kick-Ass style superhero deconstruction, a homage to simpler superhero adaptations of the ’60s and ’70s, or a ribald comedy. In trying to be all three, Hornet creates some probably unintended friction, especially when the violence ramps up – Britt and Kaito kill, rather than incapacitate, at least a few dozen bad guys, which doesn’t always sit well with the Saturday-morning cartoon vibe that informs parts of the film.

For forgoing the outright darkness of the modern superhero flick, and for its reliance on practical effects work (especially during the too-long, but still dazzling climactic sequence, which unleashes Kaito’s complete array of gadgets), Gondry and Rogen deserve credit, but ultimately Hornet is, at best, a fitfully effective patchwork between mismatched collaborators.

Simon Howell