Some time ago, in the wake of multiple posts lamenting the punishingly dull, relentlessly self-important botch that was Superman Returns, I mentioned my regret that the shift toward dourly serious superhero movies meant it was extremely unlikely that we'd ever again see a movie like Richard Lester's Superman 3, which is a whole lot worse than Superman Returns but a lot more interesting, as Lester's obvious contempt for the genre and discomfort at handling a summer tentpole were palpable. The days had long passed, I thought, when a studio would hire a director as obviously incompatible with this kind of material.
I was wrong, apparently, although in the case of The Green Hornet, it's hard to know who is more incompatible with the mechanics of superhero machinery, director Michel Gondry, more noted for his decidedly low-tech whimsy, or co-writer/star Seth Rogen, whose slacker/stoner persona is rapidly approaching its sell-by date. To their credit, neither men seems remotely interested in making a big dumb action movie. In fact, they don't quite seem to know what the hell they're doing.
That's mostly intended as a compliment. It would be impossible to describe The Green hornet as a good movie, exactly, but it's a lot of fun, with some of the go-for-broke inventiveness of Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, albeit without the visual and thematic unity of that film. Half of what happens, plot-wise and character-wise, seems utterly random, and not always intentionally so, but that makes it wonderfully free of Screenwriting 101 conventions. A late scene where Rogen puts together the motivations of the two main villains is the closest it even comes to pretending to care about the storyline.
So the movie rises and falls on its individual scenes. Some of them, particularly anything involving Rogen or co-star Jay Chou hitting on Cameron Diaz, are pretty squirm-inducing. But the scenes revealing Chou's abilities as a crackpot inventor as well as an ass-kicking martial artist (and incidentally, Gondry shows a real flair for filming and editing action scenes; who knew?) are delightful, everything involving Christoph Waltz's insecure villain Chudnofsky (or Bloodnofsky, as he later decides to call himself) is solid gold, and how can you not love the fact that Gondry sticks a homage to the sped-up threeway scene from A Clockwork Orange into this would-be franchise movie?
The Green Hornet did unexpectedly well in its opening weekend, but I suspect it won't have legs, and any kind of sequel seems unlikely. That's okay. It's reassuring to know that the Hollywood development process even allowed something this eccentric to get made in the first place.