I had a Hornet car once. It was green. I also had, simultaneously, a cat named Kato. I didn't name the cat; he was named by a friend who was a Bruce Lee fanatic. Lee played Kato in the 1960s Green Hornet TV series. But the durably long-lived Green Hornet himself dates back to a 1930s radio show. In virtually every version of The Green Hornet (radio, movie, TV, comic book), the Hornet is the alter ego of Britt Reid, do-gooder publisher by day, vigilante by night, aided by his faithful sidekick/chauffeur/manservant Kato.
As imagined by star and screenwriter Seth Rogen (who co-wrote the movie with Evan Goldberg), the 21st century Britt Reid is a layabout, a hard-partying, fast-talking, spoiled brat who inherits a newspaper when his stern father (Tom Wilkinson) dies. Britt discovers the amazing talents of his father's car mechanic and personal barista Kato (Jay Chou), a skilled engineer, artist, and inventor. Britt engages in some vandalism, gets into hot water, and hatches a scheme to become a masked crimefighter who poses as a criminal. It's not really clear why he feels it necessary to pose as a criminal, but the plot is the weakest link in The Green Hornet. It barely makes sense, but it also barely exists.
The Green Hornet has a cool car, called Black Beauty, that's tricked out with nifty features like machine guns, flamethrowers, missiles, and bulletproof glass. (My green Hornet didn't have any of that stuff, which is probably for the best, although we will never know now.) Kato, the brains behind the Green Hornet, and also the brawn, created the car, the name, and the masks. He also does all the crimefighting while Britt does all the talking. Britt talks pretty much nonstop, is generally inept, and frequently requires rescue, since he lacks even the most rudimentary of crimefighting skills. The running gag of The Green Hornet is that Britt Reid is a doofus superhero who can't do anything right, and his sidekick does all the work. And gets the girl.
The girl is Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), Britt's overqualified secretary. The Green Hornet's nemesis is Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), a criminal kingpin suffering a midlife crisis. There's also a corrupt district attorney (David Harbour) who turns out to be a villain as well.
A lot of action movies lack characters. They're filled with explosions and fights and car chases, and the people in them have plenty to do, but they lack dimension as characters. The Green Hornet is full of car chases and fights and explosions, and the characters have loads of personality, although, strangely, they don't have much to do because the movie is a more or less random series of incidents that are connected primarily because they've been spliced together by an editor (Michael Tronick).
And yet, The Green Hornet can be fun. Rogen, who can be fairly irritating, uses that quality to good effect, since Britt is a fairly irritating guy whose principle accomplishment is that he irritates bad guys. He should be called The Mosquito. Rogen and Chou (a major Taiwanese pop idol) have a funny, loose rapport. Chou speaks as slowly as Rogen speaks quickly, and is low key, quiet, and graceful, while Rogen is loud and awkward. Waltz, who was terrifically funny and terrifying as Colonel Hans Landa in *Inglourious Basterds*, is funny in The Green Hornet too, although he's playing a character who is like a lite version of Landa. Chudnofsky is merciless, and surrounds himself with yes-men (no-men don't last long); he's an insecure criminal mastermind, one who worries that he's not scary enough, and ponders ways to be taken seriously. He's not so different, in that way, from Britt, who also just wants to be taken seriously.
Director Michel Gondry (Be Kind, Rewind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) makes his first foray into action movies, after a career making quirky, brainy, highly imaginative movies and music videos. The Green Hornet shows little of Gondry's usual lightness and inventiveness, but it pops up from time to time in some of the more imaginatively staged action sequences, like the extended car chase that literally stops the presses when it ends up at Britt's newspaper offices. Gondry's goofy, slapsticky approach to kung fu fighting and bromantic comedy enlivens The Green Hornet, but the movie is an atypical entry in the director's oeuvre, one that offers few opportunities for the quirky beauty and emotional intensity of his best work. Gondry's affection for the characters shows, and he gives Britt and Kato lots of cool, unusual toys to play with, but as a director and writer, he tends to work with trippy, unconventional narratives and stories that slip and slide between layers of reality, and The Green Hornet really needed someone with the will to bend its freewheeling riffing into a more conventional narrative. (This movie features slapdash, anemic 3-D. It was not originally filmed in 3-D -- the studio decided to convert some scenes to 3-D in post-production, and it's nothing to write home about. It's a scam to get a few extra bucks out of the audience.)