A classic character of film, television, radio, and comic books returns to the big screen. Seth Rogan stars as a newspaper publisher who leads a double life as the masked crime fighter The Green Hornet. Based upon the radio series created by George W. Trendle.

Rogen's anti-hero not so super.

French visualist Michel Gondry’s predilection for American funnymen hits its first snag with his adaptation of one of pop culture’s oldest superhero identities, The Green Hornet.

Having helmed career-best, spiritedly-independent vehicles for Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004), Dave Chappelle (Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, 2005) and Jack Black (Be Kind Rewind, 2008), Gondry’s big-budget pairing with a slimmed-down Seth Rogen amounts to an energetic and intermittently entertaining romp.

Disappointingly, there’s no evidence to support early expectations that a tent-pole budget would enable Gondry to unleash his skills and imagination on a superhero flick, to create a commercial hit with artistic integrity of the likes of Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990) or Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2009). Instead, audiences settle in for a familiar-feeling buddy comedy that most resembles a meld of Rogen’s own 2008 stoner hit Pineapple Express and the 'heroic odd couple’ genre that proliferated in the 1980s (Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon films and Walter Hills’ 48 Hours being the best examples). That both Rogen and his co-star Jay Chou (ideally cast as the 'I’m not your sidekick"-sidekick, Kato), wear masks and adopt outlandish technology to fight the bad guys becomes entirely irrelevant pretty quickly.

Fans of the husky-voiced Rogen will relish the sight of their party-man icon goofing it up in an entirely re-imagined 'Green Hornet’ character; comic book traditionalists won’t be so easily amused. By all reports a lifelong Hornet fan, Rogen penned the latest draft of the script with collaborator Evan Goldberg to reflect his established screen persona. (Asian superstar Stephen Chow, who was to play Kato as well as direct his own script, bailed on the project.) Britt Reid, the hedonistic newspaper-heir playboy who dons the Green Hornet mask for no other reason than it makes him feel cool, reps the merest of variations on characters Rogen has played in director Judd Apatow’s The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005), Knocked Up (2007) and Funny People (2009). And all credit where it’s due: Rogen, ably-abetted by the great chemistry he creates with Chou, gets some big laughs in the film’s first half.

But Rogen the scriptwriter is less assured with his co-stars’ dialogue. Christoph Waltz follows up his Oscar-winning role in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) with a less well-defined villain; he wrings some giggles out of the occasional line ('No, he’s my friend. I’ll kill him.") but never registers convincingly as LA’s criminal kingpin. Cameron Diaz adds some gravitas (and a demographic-friendly presence) in the thankless role of Lenore Case, the Hornet’s unknowing ally, but it’s little more than a paycheque role for an actress of her standing. The inspired comic tone set by James Franco’s terrific cameo in the film’s opening scene is not maintained, but his monologue is a zippy, very funny piece of writing nonetheless.

Ultimately, it’s the legion of Michel Gondry fans that will feel most aggrieved. Snippets of the film reveal just what the troubled production may have looked like, had the director’s original vision been OK’ed by the Sony Pictures brass: an invigorating sequence that unravels the mystery of the death of Reid’s father (Tom Wilkinson) is a joy, unfolding as rapid fire exposition inside the mind of the lead character; stylised stunt work and fluid action sequences pop; and a lovely dissolve that turns a barricaded mansion into a coffin suggests that a great filmmaking mind was grinding against the gears of studio machinations.

Perhaps we should be grateful that The Green Hornet is a perfectly enjoyable, likably goofy Seth Rogen movie; for many, including its financial backers, that will be enough. But it’s a major missed opportunity when you consider the big-budget Michel Gondry spectacle that it came so close to being.