I think Seth Rogen is at his best when he keeps his mouth shut. Which, unfortunately isn’t hardly ever these days, and is almost completely never in “The Green Hornet.” He was one of my favorite characters (second after the great Busy Philips) in the cult TV show “Freaks and Geeks,” and he did it mostly with a glower and a few choice words. His best cinematic performance so far has been in “Observe and Report,” an unsettling, occasionally funny, often disturbing film that was hard to categorize but also hard to forget. He wasn’t exactly wordless in that film, but he did a lot with looks.
But he won’t shut up in “The Green Hornet,” and seems to be trying to forge a comedic style out of consciously talking a few words or sentences past when he ought to shut up. It rarely works as well as he thinks it does. Sadly, Rogen’s logorrhea is only of a whole pile of stylistic problems this film has. It oddly stacks up next to sidekick Jay Chou’s struggle to say anything comprehensible at all.
Rogen is the son of a newspaper magnate who dies early in the film; before he dies, he hires Chou as his mechanic, barista, and all around badass (most baristas are, secretly) and Rogen inherits him. Using Chou’s mechanical prowess and kung fu skills, Rogen decides to be a superhero, but to convince everyone he’s a bad guy, so that the bad guys won’t see him coming…or something like that. Truth is, “The Green Hornet” is such a muddled mess of comedy and action that it’s really hard to figure out when it’s spoofing and when it’s trying, and failing to be serious. There’s a scene at the beginning of the film where Christoph Waltz -the bad guy – walks into the office of a new bad guy (played by an uncredited James Franco,) takes a seat when invited, and then proceeds to tell Franco that this is HIS town and Franco must work for him. When he’s laughed at, Waltz pulls out a ridiculous double barrelled pistol and kills him. All the while, you’re sitting there thinking, “wait a sec… did he make an appointment with the guy’s secretary in order to kill him? This is how the bad guy operates? What kind of a movie is this?”
But “The Green Hornet” doesn’t know what kind of movie it is, or wants to be. It wants to be funny, and clever, and violent, and possibly gritty, but also possibly live in a cartoon world where villains are comic and superheroes are inept, but also maybe live in a world where D.A.s are corrupt and crusader journalists get killed to silence them, but also live in a world where Cameron Diaz is the smartest person in the room most of the time, but also live in a world where the good guy and his sidekick can have a spat and throw each other through multiple plate glass windows, hit each other over the head with chairs, etc, and yet somehow both emerge without a scratch on them. It’s a big mess, and only works in very small, short spurts. I’m not really sure what Rogen and director Michel Gondry were trying to achieve with “The Green Hornet.” Mostly they just made a mess.