Only inertia will bring people to Michel Gondry's 3-D spectacle, The Green Hornet. Opening amid persistent negative buzz in the mid-January dead zone, this long-germinating prospective franchise, based on a character that first saturated the nation's radio waves in 1939, seems pretty much DOA — although in the absence of any competition, it's a likely magnet for loose cash.
Rather than a $90 million Gondry head trip, à la The Science of Sleep or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the largely retro-fitted 3-D action extravaganza is a $90 million Seth Rogen comedy (he stars and also co-wrote). The indestructible vehicle that the masked, crime-fighting Green Hornet (Rogen) drives is this eminently swattable movie's overly optimistic metaphor for itself. Gondry may specialize in fantasies about fantasy, but abandon all hope that The Green Hornet is a whimsically ramshackle blockbuster like the "sweded" remakes in his Be Kind Rewind. The Green Hornet provides a half-hour's worth of mildly entertaining travesty before collapsing in a clamor of bombastic action sequences and lame wisecracks. As slapstick, the movie peaks early, with a frenzied slo-mo montage of the star's frantic, drunken revelry, complete with projectile flying out the window of L.A.'s Standard Hotel.
A sort of ass-backwards Henry IV, the narrative has something to do with the flagrantly irresponsible son of a crusading newspaper publisher redeeming himself, after Dad's death, as a flagrantly irresponsible, costumed do-gooder — thanks largely to the help of his employees, the genius sidekick and "human Swiss Army knife" Kato (Chinese pop star Jay Chou) and the unnaturally intelligent looker he hires as his secretary (Cameron Diaz). Buried beneath the movie's fat is the notion of a self-entitled white guy lording it over more talented lackeys. Working sometimes at cross-purposes, the three succeed in ridding Los Angeles of a local crime czar (Christoph Waltz) and crooked D.A. (David Harbour).
Initially conceived by Kevin Smith, Rogen's Green Hornet is not the first facetious costumed crime-fighter, but neither Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man nor Will Smith's Hancock were as doggedly unattractive as this tubby denizen of Upper Slobovia. That the Green Hornet is also an incorrigible raging asshole provides most of the movie's humor. At his loudmouthed best, Rogen's ridiculous dude-isms and relentless self-justifying blather can suggest a proudly stupid Albert Brooks; at his worst, as when tirelessly (or is it tiresomely?) hitting on co-star Diaz, he's simply Seth Rogen.
Gondry worked well with the obstreperous air-guitar king Jack Black in Be Kind Rewind, but where Black is a physical comedian with demonic intensity and Gleason-like grace, Rogen is largely post-physical — spasmodic, fist-pumping victory dances notwithstanding. His exertions are evident but unsustained; he perfumes the movie with eau de stale sweat socks. (As Manny Farber once wrote of George Kuchar's Hold Me While I'm Naked, The Green Hornet is a movie that loves its own body odor.) The least that can be said of Gondry's contraption is that it seems fully aware of its own idiocy and advances a touchingly anachronistic faith in the power of the press, via Edward James Olmos' serious journalist, who attempts to run the newspaper the Green Hornet has inherited.
Exhibiting none of the cornball grandeur of Tron, Gondry's 3-D derives a modicum of interest from his naturally eccentric visual style — gratuitous high-angle shots, playfully shallow focus — and fondness for excessively vast or cluttered living spaces. The most effective (and possibly the only genuine) use of 3-D is reserved for the pop Blam! Pow! moiré-patterned end credits. By that time, even Rogen's fans will most likely have beaten a hasty retreat.