"The Green Hornet" is the first cinematic belly-flop of 2011, a waste of time, talent and money and an utterly wrong-headed entry in the increasingly tiresome superhero genre.
Admittedly, it's an innocuous-enough film which may work for some viewers, since its protagonist attempts to display a wiseguy charm, and which, in 3-D, at least, features some nifty fight sequence action. (The 3-D actually warrants a star bump.)
But it's all to little effect, since the Michel Gondry-helmed "Hornet" tries to have it both ways, as a sort-of comic parody of the superhero film, and as a serious butt-kickin' reimagining of a beloved character, albeit one people under 40 may not know.
Seth Rogen -- yes, Seth Rogen -- stars as Britt Reid, the Paris-Hilton-as-a-dude son of rich newspaper magnate James Reid (Tom Wilkinson). Upon his father's death, Britt meets the strangely brilliant Kato (Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou), who just happens to have the ability to pimp out cars, coffee makers and weapons.
Suddenly -- in a matter of minutes, natch -- a beer-fueled Britt and Kato have decided it's time to bring "justice" back to Los Angeles and fight crime. This is a dire need for the city, since the short, paranoid gangster Chudnofsky -- played by a slumming Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds' " Oscar-winning Col. Hans Landa -- is running the city into the ground with drugs and violence.
This is all well and good on paper. Rogen as a superhero/cut-up? A cool, criminal-proof car? Waltz as the bad guy? Oh, and did I mention Cameron Diaz? She pops up every so often as Britt's secretary, a criminology expert who exists mainly as a plot motivator. It's a nothing role, yet Diaz gamely tries her best to do something with it.
But the most serious problem derails the movie: Rogen is just not funny here. Perhaps his stoner-chuckle, slightly scummy schtick is getting old -- it felt forced in both "Funny People" and "Observe and Report" -- or maybe he's just finding it difficult to play anyone but, well, Seth Rogen. He's a likable actor, and will be again, but here he is miscast to the point of absurdity.
Chou's Kato is smart, clever and stylish, and hints at the movie that might have been, if the filmmakers were not so intent on trying to force in laughter. And yes, there are a few chuckles.
And where-oh-where is Gondry? There is not a moment in the film that betrays the visually splendiferous eye of the man behind "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "The Science of Sleep." Even the fight scenes feel dull and rote, though Gondry fans might argue that the 3-D redeems them. (It does not.)
I can imagine that Gondry was tickled by the idea of taking on a superhero, especially one without the audience expectations Batman and Spidey are saddled with. But he brings nothing to the table this time, and opens himself up to a complete re-evaluation.
Consider "The Green Hornet," then, a massive setback for all concerned. After all, a bad movie with adequate 3-D is still a bad movie.
THE GREEN HORNET
2 stars (out of 4)
STARRING: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou and Christoph Waltz
DIRECTOR: Michel Gondry
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
RATING: PG-13 for scenes of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content.
THE LOWDOWN: A rich playboy and his sidekick fight crime.