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The Green Hornet

French director Michel Gondry wouldn’t seem the most obvious choice to helm The Green Hornet. He made his name with a handful of fantastically strange, intricately fabricated movies over the last decade, most memorably Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (with Jim Carrey) and the French-language film The Science of Sleep. Each of them, however different, was often visually striking, with dream-like interludes and infused with psychologically unsettling but delicate elements—some might say a precious sensibility.

How this record was a credential for directing The Green Hornet isn’t immediately obvious, but we’re talking Hollywood here, the realm of aesthetic mongrelization and industrialized dumb-downs.

Granted, reworking the original material hardly required inordinate respect and fidelity. The Green Hornet began its history as a radio show in the last year of FDR’s first presidential term, produced by George Trendle (who is given credit here) and Buffalo’s own Fran Striker, of Lone Ranger radio renown (who isn’t). The Hornet was never among the most elevated in the super crimefighters pop pantheon, even if he later became the hero of a 1960s TV show in which Bruce Lee began his climb to large-size pop status playing the Hornet’s martial artist sidekick, Kato.

This Hornet has been reconceived as a noisy gonzo goof on the earlier iterations. It’s an amiably slobby, big-dimensioned, 3-D thing that is almost desperate to be taken unseriously. There’s nothing wrong with travestying pop standards, to be sure, and Gondry (who started his career directing music videos) may have not only welcomed a killer payday but the opportunity to direct jocular big-bang CGI set pieces and mayhem. And now and then, the outsized choreography of the (mainly automotive) mashups yields some fun. But Gondry was saddled with a script co-written by his star and boss, Seth Rogan. This is a travesty with very scant wit.

The movie’s dim premise has Rogan as the self-indulgent son of a powerful, deceased newspaper publisher. He comes up with the idea of playing the Hornet, along with his dad’s Asian driver and preternaturally clever car mechanic, espresso maker, and driver (Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou), as another stupid lark, and is drawn into urban crime-gang wars. As a Russian-born crime syndicate boss, Oscar winner Christophe Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) gives the movie’s only remotely amusing performance. Cameron Diaz has a thankless outing as Rogan’s secretary, a role that comes with a male-chauvinist joke on the fact that she’s older than her two co-stars. The whole thing has a self-consciously vulgar, ham-handed frat house spirit.

Hornet is really a kind of comic buddy picture, but one that’s not genuinely comic. It might have worked with better writers than Rogan and Evan Goldberg. Like Gondry, himself, for example.

george sax

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Watch the trailer for The Green Hornet