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The Science of Swede

The Green Hornet (2011)

Jaimie Trueblood/Columbia Pictures

The odd-couple combination of Michel Gondry and a Seth Rogen-inhabited superhero plays out about as one would expect in “The Green Hornet,” a 19-year long-gestating project finally come to fruition. Elements of Mr. Gondry’s trademark minimalist whimsy combine with Mr. Rogen’s frat-boy exhortations and a whole lot of unchecked, off-the-wall action in a potpourri that never quite works, but always keeps on moving.

Mr. Rogen — who slimmed down considerably for the project — plays Britt Reid, heir to a Los Angeles newspaper fortune who finds himself driven to fight injustice with his late father’s (Tom Wilkinson) mechanic and coffee-maker Kato (Jay Chou). Donning masks and patrolling the city posing as a renegade crime unit — the proverbial villains doing the good guys’ work — the tandem comes into conflict with actual baddie Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz).

The filmmaker naturally sprinkles some playful flourishes into the big-budget affair. Incorporating visual distortions such as characters moving at different speeds during the action scenes and ironic soundtrack choices (“Gangsta’s Paradise,” anyone?), Mr. Gondry entrenches the picture in a tongue-in-cheek realm appropriate for its star and overall gleeful absurdity. There’s none of the dark striving for justice of, say, Christopher Nolan’s Batman; and no more is made of the Green Hornet and his marginal motivations than merited by the narrative.

With the overarching wink-wink atmosphere, giving the film over to Mr. Rogen — best known for his comic schlubs and a much-maligned casting choice in some circles — makes sense. His endless riffing and lovable doofus persona might not connect the film to its “Green Hornet” predecessors (two movie serials and a TV show, for example), but it’s an ideal tack given the film’s old-fashioned awareness of the absurdity of men in masks, fighting crime well above their pay grade.

The star — who affects an easy chemistry with kung-fu savvy badass Mr. Chou (a beloved Taiwanese singer) — keeps the energy level raised with his constant, persistent riffing, so that the movie remains tolerable even as its structure devolves into an uncomfortable mush.

The Gondry-Rogen routine of distractions, however, is not self-sustaining enough to overcome the fact that Mr. Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg have strung together loosely-conjoined scenes rather than a full-fledged narrative. “The Green Hornet” is a collection of broad stereotypes and nonstarters that never congeals into a coherent, satisfying whole. It’s busy, frenetic chaos stretched to feature length by endless destructive action and an overarching flatness in style and character development.

The “noise,” if you will, is pleasing enough; but it’s hard to shake the sense of well-known figures cashing in on a superhero craze that doesn’t quite fit them, and trying to but never fully making it their own.


Opened on Jan. 14 in the United States and Britain.

Directed by Michel Gondry; written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, based on “The Green Hornet” radio series created by George W. Trendle; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Michael Tronick; music by James Newton Howard; production design by Owen Paterson; costumes by Kym Barrett; produced by Neal H. Moritz; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Seth Rogen (Britt Reid/the Green Hornet), Jay Chou (Kato), Cameron Diaz (Lenore Case), Christoph Waltz (Chudnofsky), Edward James Olmos (Axford), David Harbour (Scanlon) and Tom Wilkinson (James Reid).


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