Perhaps "The Green Hornet" is director Michel Gondry's mocking wink at the Hollywood of masked heroes and the fanboys who made it that way.
A violent, clumsy, jokey, badly plotted and miscast mess, "Hornet" almost makes sense, taken on those terms. Gondry is, after all, the director of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."
"Green Hornet" is certainly not like any other masked hero movie, unless you remember "The Spirit" or "Kick-Ass" and the good and very, very bad parts of both of those.
It has all the superhero movie ingredients - rich, bored crime-fighting anti-hero, his sidekick, a cooler-than-cool car and a supposedly super villain. But Gondry, working from a miss or near-miss script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, turns this film of the radio and then 1960s TV series into an epic miscalculation.
A slimmed-down Rogen stars as playboy Britt Reid, who tries to ignore everybody's words of condolence at his crusading publisher dad's funeral. "You have some mighty big shoes to fill." Dad (Tom Wilkinson) was always a humorless martinet to Britt. "Trying doesn't matter if you always fail," that was his motto.
But Britt finds himself impressed by the chauffeur who makes his morning espresso, a gadget freak and martial arts master whose name he never learned. It's Kato (Jay Chou), by the way.
"I was born in Shanghai," Kato says through Chou's nearly impenetrable accent.
"Love Japan," the big dumb lug Britt answers.
Kato gives Britt a sense of purpose. He customizes Britt's father's favorite old Chrysler into Black Beauty, an armed-and-pimped-to-the-max muscle car. They set out to play some superhero pranks, which Britt pushes the unhappy editor (Edward James Olmos) of dad's old newspaper to publicize as the crimes of "The Green Hornet." He'll be not a hero, but a villain vying for control of the underworld. That'll fool everybody. So will that little mask and fedora Britt dons. Kato will be his sidekick - "I'm Indy, you're Short Round."
Their foe? A crime lord, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), whose name is so unpronounceable that everyone (including James Franco, in a mildly amusing opening cameo) makes a joke of it. Chudnofsky packs a double-barreled pistol, which he uses with little provocation, and frets over the fact that he's not scary enough.
Waltz is so incompetent in this part that his Oscar is looking more "Inglourious" than ever. He is Steven Seagal-bad in this part. Inept, tin-eared, lost.
Chou's English is so tortured that when he tells Britt that his father was "a complex man," it sounds like "compact man." Slo-mo "bullet time" action beats during his fights make him come off better than most of his co-stars. The homoerotic Chou-Rogen buddy banter doesn't put either of them in a good light.
Rogen is quick with the profane one-liner or the Kato compliments - "You're a human Swiss Army knife!" He lands some laughs, but his role in botching this spins out of his limited vocabulary and even more limited skills as a screenwriter.
Cameron Diaz makes a glorified cameo as the office assistant who researches social ills the Hornet and Kato set out to solve. And look for Edward Furlong as a strung-out villainous underling. They, at least, have parts too small to share the blame that this soon-to-be-infamous flop will warrant.