The Green Hornet

In films like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Science of Sleep,” beloved French crazy person Michel Gondry has demonstrated a directorial vision full of imagination. In “The Green Hornet” (Gondry’s first truly mainstream effort), you catch occasional glimpses of his genius, mostly in action scenes and montages — the parts that most often need sprucing up in a superhero film.

These are but glimpses, though; most of “The Green Hornet” is mundane and uninspired, as if it had been directed by, I don’t know, the guy who made the “Fantastic Four” movies. The jokey screenplay by “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express” duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg could have been an interesting complement to Gondry’s tongue-in-cheek style. Instead, the film wavers uncomfortably between parody and homage, between deconstructing the excesses of the genre and simply indulging in them. The climactic showdown is ludicrously loud and senseless, but it doesn’t seem to be a self-aware commentary on ludicrously loud and senseless climaxes. It just IS one.

Rogen stars as Britt Reid, a reckless millionaire playboy who inherits a Los Angeles “media empire” (mostly just a newspaper) after the death of his disapproving father (Tom Wilkinson). Britt befriends Kato (Jay Chou), his dad’s faithful valet/barista/auto mechanic/gadget-maker, and discovers that the young man has been turning Mr. Reid’s vintage automobiles into Batmobiles (basically). No reason is given for this extracurricular work, nor is any reason given for Britt and Kato subsequently donning masks and going out to fight crime. They just DO.

The crime boss in L.A. is Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), an amusing man of vaguely foreign origin who is fixated on the idea of whether he’s scary enough (another example of the movie’s sporadic self-awareness). Chudnofsky thinks this mysterious “Green Hornet” character and his sidekick are rival criminals trying to muscle out the competition. That’s the perception in the news media, too, though nothing about Britt and Kato’s vigilantism would seem to suggest such motives.

The running gag is that Britt views himself as a Batman-style superhero, when in fact it is Kato who does all the real work. Kato has stunning martial-arts skills and is a genius with designing and building gadgets. Britt, who generally behaves like Seth Rogen (though without the marijuana), is buffoonishly oblivious to the facts of the matter. This is funny at first but eventually annoying as it starts figuring in to the actual plot. Wait, wait: Are Britt and Kato really having an argument over which of them is most useful? Are we to understand that Britt really thinks it’s him? Really?? Like the other wide release dude comedy this weekend, “The Dilemma,” “The Green Hornet” sometimes wants us to laugh at these dummies, sometimes wants us to take them seriously.

“The Green Hornet” is enjoyable in bursts, as long as it sticks to the off-kilter comedy and doesn’t try too hard to convince us that this is taking place in the real world. If you start thinking about logistics — how Kato makes all that stuff single-handedly, how criminal dealings are transacted via Hotmail accounts, how the Green Hornet dodges police and causes millions in property damage — well, just don’t think about it, OK? The movie’s problem is its wild shifts in tone. It’s a winking parody one minute, a straightforward superhero adventure the next, and it’s never either of those things long enough (or well enough) to really click.

P.S. Cameron Diaz is in this movie. She plays Britt Reid’s journalist assistant at the paper. There’s a dumb love triangle. You might forget she was in the movie at all.

C+ (1 hr., 59 min.; PG-13, a lot of profanity, some vulgarity, a lot of action violence.)