Jay Chou (left) and Seth Rogen star in "The Green Hornet." (Jaimie Trueblood, Columbia…)
"The Green Hornet" may not be the most tedious superhero movie ever — the competition is admittedly tough — but it is certainly in the running.
An anemic, 97-pound weakling of the action comedy persuasion, "Hornet" is a boring bromedy that features mumblecore heroics instead of the real thing.
Though the Hornet's been around since the 1930s in various incarnations, including a TV series that featured the one-of-a-kind Bruce Lee as his sidekick Kato, the Hornet's technically not a superhero at all. Rather, like his animal kingdom cohort Batman, the Hornet fights crime from behind a mask with just his ordinary human powers, plus nifty inventions like a tricked-out Chrysler Imperial.
Invention, however, is what's lacking in this latest version. Neither director Michel Gondry nor star Seth Rogen (who also co-wrote with Evan Goldberg) have been able to bring even a semblance of life to an inert enterprise that did itself no favors by converting to 3-D late in the game.
Gondry and Rogen are not the obvious go-to guys for this kind of big-budget action project (estimates run as high as $130 million), and from the look of the ruins that remain, they attempted to use their unlikeliness to their advantage.
Why not, they must have thought, bring in a hero who not only doesn't have any superpowers but also is a bumbling and ineffectual fool? And why not turn the whole thing over to a director who is known for the unconventional nature of his work (like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), and for never doing what anyone else would do?
These ideas sound plausible in theory, but the attempt to implement them has been ruinous. For one thing, Rogen has had enough success in films like "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" to believe that everything he says or does is automatically funny. It isn't.
As for Gondry, making a film like this seems to have completely baffled him. He has no special feeling for the frequent action sequences, which 3-D has not helped at all, and he has brought nothing of interest, either conventional or otherwise, to the rest of the proceedings.
Set in a time before newspapers regularly languished in bankruptcy court, "Green Hornet" introduces us to young wastrel Britt Reid (Rogen), the son of fabulously wealthy and influential newspaper publisher James Reid (a squandered Tom Wilkinson).
Nursing a grudge against his father that goes back to a childhood incident involving the decapitation of an action figure (don't ask), Britt has dedicated his life to being a party animal.
An unexpected death, however, shocks Britt's world. And when he discovers that his father's former employee Kato (Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou) has enough hidden talents to be called "a human Swiss Army knife," he decides that calling himself the Green Hornet and being part of a crime-fighting duo is an endeavor with a future.
Though Chou (in his American acting debut) has an amusing presence as the English-challenged Kato, Rogen's Britt is less inviting. His dialogue (which he wrote himself) is doubtless intended to be tongue-in-cheek funny, but lines like "It's unbelievable how cool we are" are as pointless as they sound.
Similarly lost are the film's two costars. Christoph Waltz, reportedly a late replacement for Nicolas Cage, is ineffectual as the film's villain du jour Benjamin Chudnofsky.
Even worse off is a beleaguered Cameron Diaz as Lenore Case, Britt's secretary and the woman whose affections the boys ineptly battle each other for when they're not preparing to square off against Chudnofsky. "Girls are such a bore," the Hornet proclaims at one point, apropos of nothing in particular. Not as much of a bore, however, as what we have here.
'The Green Hornet'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Playing: In general release