Green Hornet's design is as bumbling as its execution. It manages to be both a miscalculated buddy movie and a sub-par action comedy. All the movie wants is to be goofy and entertaining, but this silly romp gradually runs out of breath because it works too hard at being a Seth Rogen comedy.
When his father dies, Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) inherits a powerful LA newspaper (The Daily Sentinel) and a kung-fu-fighting-coffee-making-ultra-mechanic named Kato (Jay Chou). Amidst a drunken prank, Reid and Kato stop a mugging and enjoy the experience so much they decide to become super heroes. The twist: they will pose as villains so they can infiltrate the real bad guys, and will use The Sentinel to promote their villainy.
This premise sounds muddled but is accurate to the Green Hornet mythology; Seth Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg are the ones that complicate things. On paper, a buddy movie between a man and his butler is intriguing, but it's difficult to make the Batman/Alfred dynamic work. Ideally, buddy movies should feature two equals whose opposing characteristics complement each other. Rogen and Goldberg make Reid a volcanically obnoxious boss and make Kato an inordinately smooth sidekick. It's a weird concept that plays out like moving starring Gilbert Gottfried and George Clooney.
Beyond the dynamically different duo, action comedies work best when we are given genuine characters. Genuine characters make the comedy funnier and the action more engaging because we care about what happens to them. In True Lies, for example, we spend a lot of time with Jaime Lee Curtis's character. We see the staleness of her marriage and her lust for excitement. This backstory makes her striptease funnier, and her haphazard action sequences more interesting. Contrast that to Green Hornet where Kato reveals his true passion is to be an artist. He shares a drawing of a busty comic heroine and Reid calls him a perv. It's sadly one of the few motivations we learn about Kato, but Green Hornet doesn't care about motivation, it cares about laughs.
Despite Green Hornet's shortcomings, Jay Chou is a surprising standout. In his debut film Initial D he played a subdued character and delivered a horrifically boring performance. Here he can focus more on being Jay Chou than acting. He talks with the confidence of a man who has sold 28 million albums, has won the World Music Award four times, and has the sexual affection of millions of women. Whether or not the casting director knew it, there is a large Jay Chou following that will go see this movie, and quiver as Chou touches those ivory keys.