Maybe there's a cautionary tale in here someplace, though I can't quite be certain who would benefit from it. Just seven years ago, beloved French-born music video director Michel Gondry wowed the world with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of those movies that seemingly everybody loves, a tragic and funny and whimsical and tender romantic anti-comedy. Just seven years ago. Now he's put his name to The Green Hornet, a crappy work-for-hire superhero flick. No, wait, it's not crappy - it's worse than that. It's devoid of enough content to even make an aesthetic judgment like "crappy"; "crappy" is a word we save for movies where enough is going on for some of it to go wrong. Though there's enough material in The Green Hornet that it fills 119 minutes, I am not persuaded that anything actually happens.

Based on the character created for radio in 1936, the film stars Seth Rogen as Seth Rogen in a mask. I'm sorry, that's mean of me, and it's early in the review yet. The film stars Rogen as Britt Reid, son of Los Angeles crusading journalist James Reid (Tom Wilkinson); born into money and influence, Britt is a shallow party animal until the day his father dies unexpectedly and leaves him with a newspaper empire to maintain, with a legacy of social activism to restore to a paper that has fallen on hard times along with every other print outlet in the '00s. But Britt accidentally finds his way into a much more present way of fighting corruption and crime in L.A. when he discovers that his father's mechanic Kato (Jay Chou) is both a martial arts expert and a genius inventor, and the two take to the streets as masked crimefighters in a car packed to the gills with all sorts of delightful tricks. Crime is fought, but not as much as you might think.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the biggest problem is that the script by Rogen and Evan Goldberg can never decide how much it wants to be a superhero movie, how much it wants to be a parody of a superhero movie, how much it wants to be an homage to '80s action flicks - save for his post-Tarantino sense of irony, the villain Chudnofsky, played by Christoph Waltz in his first post-Oscar, post-Basterds role in America, is a a fairly straightforward example of the sort of bad guy you'd expect to see opposite Chuck Norris or a young Bruce Willis - and how much it wants to be a laid-back "dudes hanging out" comedy on the model of Rogen & Goldberg's Superbad and Pineapple Express (the latter of which fuses '80s-style action and bro comedy much more effectively than their current effort). That's a lot of splintered personality to deal with, and that's before we throw Gondry into the mix, a filmmaker with exactly no experience in any of those genres, and whose characteristic treatment of man-child protagonists is light-years from Rogen & Goldberg's.

The end result is mostly a Seth Rogen vehicle with some pulp-hero trappings, and Gondry's influence as a visual artist felt almost solely in some montage sequences that bear more than a small resemblance to his music videos (in particular, the depiction of Kato's perception of time slowing down when he fights uses a trick taken straight out of his 1999 video for The Chemical Brothers' "Let Forever Be", tricked out with some CGI). The most inventive bit of Gondryesque creativity comes in a telephone montage that uses split-screen in a way that I don't think I've ever quite seen before. There are a few other splashes of the director's personality, but in the main this is clearly not a film that he made because it afforded him much possibility to continue exploring his obsessions, and even though his obsessions had been taking him to increasingly insubstantial places with The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind, something so personal that it's a mess is always going to be preferable to the opposite.

It's not even seemingly all that personal for Rogen, though he wrote, executive produced, starred, and apparently called most of the shots on set. Meaning, I guess, that the worrisome obsession with heavy objects being dropped on the villain's henchmen is all Rogen: the film has the most dead-eyed approach to on-screen violence of anything I've seen in ages, not fetishising it as did Kick-Ass but simply not caring about the piles of dead bodies the Green Hornet leaves in his wake, in the most callous, PG-13 way possible. But the point I was driving at, was that Rogen clearly has no real attachment to the Green Hornet as such, and the grinding joylessness with which he moves through the character's origin story does not have the tang of an affectionate fanboy so much as a writer who thought it might be fun to set the exact same character he always writes into a scenario where he's a flailing moron trying to fight criminals way out of his league.

I cannot say if Rogen's shtick has grown old, as such, for I never really thought that it had before; but it is simply not right for this kind of movie, not right at all, and through scene after scene of him acting like a hopped-up idiot, trying and miserably failing to attract Cameron Diaz (who is stuffed into the movie for no good reason, except to be the brunt of some incredibly mean-spirited jokes), generally behaving as a jolly sociopath, delighted to beat the shit out of people and demand his own way from the people he considers friends, it all seemed too gruesomely unpleasant to be labeled a "comedy". It's not just that The Green Hornet can't make up its mind what kind of film it wants to be - which it can't and it's a huge problem - but that whenever that indecision gets too thorny, Rogen and Goldberg scatter to the safety fratty misanthropy and a peculiar line of gay jokes; and with Gondry being palpably unhappy to sit in the director's chair - which he's as much as admitted in interviews - there's nothing to keep The Green Hornet inflated except those few splotches of brilliant filmmaking where it seems like the film wants to be more than an unusually lifeless, formula-ridden action movie with a snotty sense of easily-marketed humor, but keeps getting suffocated.