Thursday, March 11, 2010

Archive: 'Hancock'

Movie Review
Hancock (2008)

In this surprisingly bizarre summer diversion, Will Smith puts himself up in line for yet another Fourth of July weekend at the box office. It'll probably do just fine as there's enough here to keep audiences happy, but that's also where the movie's biggest problem comes into play. "Hancock" has a severe case of split personality disorder. While trying to deliver all of what audiences crave for in their dose of summer flicks, the filmmakers here take a moderately promising premise and let it plummet to the ground. There are two movies here, which are both kind of good on their own. The issue is when the two get mashed together making for a result that just isn't so great.

Will Smith plays John Hancock, a superhero that nobody likes. He's a disheveled drunk, sleeping on benches in the street while bad guys fill Los Angeles. By older people and kids alike, he's referred to as an asshole. Those people learn quickly that Hancock really doesn't like being called an asshole. When Hancock does get roused to action, he flies around hungover, bottle still in hand, and haphazardly "saves the day," which sometimes involves piercing an SUV full of crooks through the top of a skyscraper or saving a stranded whale by heaving it onto a yacht. For probably the first time in movie history, we are introduced to a superhero who's an anti-superhero. Hancock is avoiding a series of subpoenas and lawsuits, and the public generally loathes him because even when he's saving somebody, he leaves a path of destruction in his wake. But Hancock's going through his own stuff, too. He doesn't remember how he got where he is or even who he is, hence the generic name John Hancock. He just woke up in the hospital with extraordinary powers.

And then one day Hancock saves a PR named Ray (Jason Bateman) from a speeding train even if he wrecks his car and driveway in the process. With Ray's own business goal to make the world a better place failing on him, he decides to assist Hancock in giving him a better image. Now, so far, this is all very original and promising and a good start for the movie, and I couldn't help but wonder where it could possibly go next. Ray has Hancock surrender to doing time in jail figuring that the public will eventually need his superhero services. And so, when the call for duty comes, Hancock gives himself a shave and dons a sharp, black leather suit. He's a newly rehabilitated man, or at least trying his best to be. That's all very well. What next?

Enter Ray's wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), who spends the first half of the movie glaring at Hancock after Ray asks him over for dinner as a thank you. Let's just say there's a lot more to her than that stink eye she's got going on, and that's when the movie takes a totally unexpected turn and completely disregards everything else you just previously witnessed. Hancock, the sarcastic, rude, screwed up guy who had a deep inner emotional conflict turns into Hancock, the guy who finds himself all over again and learns a thing or two about life, responsibility, and the importance of loyalty and togetherness. Will Smith had fun while it lasted, but everyone knew he couldn't go on for that long being the bad guy.

Rather than focusing on Hancock's transformation, the focus is placed on too many subplots that make the whole movie extremely choppy, uneven, and ultimately incoherent. The end result really makes no sense leaving the final act to lack any powerful impact. It seems that everybody on screen is a whole lot more emotionally involved than the people watching; I'm guessing they were just waiting for Will Smith to destroy more stuff. Director Peter Berg and writers Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan struggle to find a balance of tone as they abandon the quirky humor that kicked the movie off and go for something heavier. Superheroes are the modern day implications of the existence of gods and angels? Oh, all right.

Will Smith is a fine actor, and he makes Hancock a much more layered character than the screenplay requires. Jason Bateman doesn't make a false move and does the subtle humor very well. Charlize Theron, too, places herself alongside Smith and matches him in several scenes. It's just the material isn't all there to support the cast. They're grasping for straws here and the movie leaves them short. There are some nifty special effects, though, even if they do go by in a flash. "Hancock" is basically an interesting premise that runs out quick and splits violently on itself. It's not quite the retooling of a superhero movie we're looking for. We've got plenty of other better options for that. "The Dark Knight," anyone?

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