Seth Rogen stars as Britt Reid, a wealthy playboy slacker who becomes a crime fighter in “The Green Hornet.” (Columbia Pictures)
Forget sting; "The Green Hornet" stinks. A big, sloppy, loud, grating mess of a movie, "The Green Hornet" is a major disappointment, especially considering the talent involved.
Adopting the 1930s radio serial for an audience burned out on superhero tales, "The Green Hornet" goes for a post-modern, wink-wink approach in its story of a spoiled heir (Seth Rogen) who decides to transform himself into a masked vigilante.
But in attempting to have a laugh at the same conventions its reveling in, "The Green Hornet" ends up a lazy parody of itself, a misguided exercise in "cool" that wants to laugh at explosions at the same time it's piling them up. The result is a condescending clutter of action movie clichés, miscast at nearly every turn and made worse by the notion the movie is above the very things it's presenting in abundance.
Rogen is Britt Reid, a playboy slacker who is handed his family's media empire after his father's untimely death. Reid is less interested in running his dad's newspaper than he is forming an alliance with his father's tech-wizard employee Kato (Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou) and making a name for himself as crime fighter the Green Hornet.
All of which could be amusing, but "The Green Hornet's" script is surrounded by a cloak of detached hipster irony, where everything is dumbed-down and over-explained supposedly for comedic effect.
When Reid and Kato are surrounded by a team of bad guys, Reid chimes in, "These guys are amazingly well-organized." When they pull off an especially high-risk maneuver: "That was incredibly dangerous." When they're in peril: "This is really scary!" And so on. Note to Rogen, who wrote the script with his "Superbad" partner Evan Goldberg: This method doesn't work. Stop using it.
Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar for his chilling performance as Nazi Col. Hans Landa in "Inglorious Basterds," is stuck in the role of Chudnofsky, an insecure super-villain who frets over his catchphrases and constantly second-guesses whether his attire is appropriately dastardly. He's like a distant cousin of "Die Hard's" debonair terrorist Hans Gruber, ramped up to cartoon level and crippled with self-confidence issues. He's too silly to be menacing.
Somewhere in all of this, Cameron Diaz is squeezed in as Reid's secretary Lenore Case, who cites supposedly big media stories like she's the Wikipedia entry on journalism. She lapses in and out of the film as if she were being called in to work on a scene-by-scene basis.
Left the unenviable task of making sense of the whole enterprise is visionary French director Michel Gondry, who made the beguiling "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and the video store fable "Be Kind Rewind." Gondry's lo-fi whimsy is lost in the slam-bang of explosions and car crashes, and his stamp is barely visible on the end product. It's as if he removed himself from the process early on and set his skills on auto-pilot.
The one person in "The Green Hornet" who works is Chou, who despite his near inability to deliver his lines in English comes across as cool and suave on screen. He's a glimpse of what "The Green Hornet" could have been, had it not been stung by its own too-cool-for-school instincts.
'The Green Hornet'
GRADE: DRated PG-13: For sequences of violent action, language, sexuality and drug content.
Running time: 108 minutes