Words that I never thought I'd type, but must after viewing Seth Rogen's take on The Green Hornet:
I miss Van Williams.
If you know the name, then you're familiar with the mid-1960s TV series that existed only because Batman starring Adam West was a ratings-buster at the time and ABC was cashing in with another masked crimefighter.
The two series wildly differed in tone and, as it turned out, posterity. Williams' Green Hornet was stick-in-the-mud stoic, compared to West's campy heroism, a contrast making their crossover teaming on a few episodes less exciting than expected. If not for introducing Bruce Lee to America as his sidekick Kato, The Green Hornet wouldn't even be a blip on an outdated pop-culture meter.
Where there's genuine indifference, Rogen sees an opportunity to reinvent one of the blandest fantasy heroes ever. Nothing wrong with that, except Rogen proves he isn't the right guy to do it. The new, unimproved Green Hornet is crafted in his image as a party schlub whose only superpower is dropping slacker wisecracks into the least appropriate situations. Even the tricked-out car upstages him.
Billed as an action comedy, The Green Hornet isn't funny, and the action is often too frenetic to make any impression. There's a villain (Christoph Waltz) without any master plan to foil, and a window-dressing damsel (Cameron Diaz) who's never in distress to rescue. This is also another movie giving 3-D a bad name, with too few in-your-lap effects to make the extra ticket price worthwhile.
I really, really wanted to enjoy The Green Hornet. I really, really didn't.
The opening sequence showed promise, with Waltz's Chudnofsky oozing Inglourious Basterds menace in a confrontation with a rival mobster (unbilled James Franco who, as usual, understands the material). Then Rogen — who co-wrote the screenplay — goes to work undermining that promise in a vain search for laughs.
His Britt Reid isn't a square-jawed straight arrow but a privileged playboy with daddy issues. James Reid (Tom Wilkinson) is a crusading newspaper editor disgusted with his son's life choices, and deservedly so. James suddenly dies from a bee sting — no revenge motive there — and Britt reluctantly takes charge of the paper, which no board of directors would allow.
Britt becomes acquainted with his father's trusty servant Kato (Jay Chou, who must have attended Jackie Chan's school of broken English). Kato is a MacGyver of sorts, turning classic cars into battlemobiles and inventing a pistol firing knockout gas. Mostly he's a martial arts master, whose chopsocky skills bail out the clumsy, slightly cowardly Britt from every bad situation except this movie.
Each explosion creates a deeper crater of desperation, each Rogen-esque prank leads to the conclusion that he's a one-trick pony limping. The Green Hornet will eventually settle back into the obscurity he deserves, but not before a lot of easily led moviegoers get stung.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.