One Reckless Superhero, One Wrecked Movie
There's no such thing as a carefree superhero. Like us regular folks and unlike, say, James Bond, they're never completely comfortable in their own skin. Hancock takes this idea to a visceral extreme by confronting audiences with a thoroughly dissipated and despised superhero, an ornery crime-fighter brimming with self-loathing.
Casting Will Smith in the title role enriches the conceit. Smith is a movie star who makes every part his own and always seems at ease with himself. We don't expect to see him portraying a morose, self-pitying object of derision. Disheveled and perpetually inebriated, Hancock provides a much-needed service to the citizens of Los Angeles by using his awesome strength, speed and durability against lawbreakers. But his reckless disregard for property and foul attitude has turned the community against him.
While introducing Hancock and toying with our assumption that superheroes are outwardly kind and polite even if internally tormented, the movie is highly entertaining. Frenetic and funny, the first half constitutes a summer lark with wild special effects and snarky jokes. It feels vaguely illicit -- so much so, the amount of bad language and unsavory behavior calls into question the PG-13 rating. Hancock falls apart, however, devolving into a sentimentalized and scattershot piece short on integrity and sense.
During the opening sequence, a kid rouses Hancock from a bourbon-bottle-strewn bus bench to point out that the freeway police chase being broadcast on local TV requires his attention. Woozy and cussed, he growls at the boy, grabs at a female passerby and then shoots up into the sky, setting an unsteady course across town to an SUV filled with young Uzi-toting Korean thugs. After much mayhem and name-calling, Hancock skewers the vehicle on the Capitol Records building in Hollywood.
Soon we are introduced to idealistic PR executive Ray Embrey (Justin Bateman). On his way home from trying to convince a pharmaceutical company to give free drugs to the needy, Ray's car gets stuck on a railroad crossing and Hancock swoops in for a rescue that unnecessarily endangers other lives, derails the train, and creates a general mess. Onlookers start verbally harassing Hancock, which switches on a light in Ray's head. He proposes a scheme to rehabilitate Hancock's image. If he turns himself in and agrees to serve time for all the outstanding warrants he's accumulated during his destructive days fighting crime -- the authorities and citizenry will soon miss him and be clamoring for his return. Voila! A hero will be reborn.
Evidently, the main reason Hancock agrees to the plan is that he's attracted to Ray's wife Mary (Charlize Theron) and susceptible to the admiration of their son, who's grateful when a neighborhood bully receives his comeuppance. The connection between Mary and Hancock is uncomfortable and nudges you toward the edge of your seat. Alas, where it leads barely makes sense and is both under-explained and overly familiar.
Meanwhile, a great deal of humor is mined from Hancock's incarceration. He's confronted by many of the lowlifes he's busted -- even feeling compelled to put one fellow's head up another's rear end, literally -- and grudgingly sits through alcohol and anger management group therapy sessions. He emerges from his stint in prison to foil a bank robbery sporting a one-piece leather superhero costume (supplied by Ray) and a more cheerful attitude.
What ensues shouldn't be revealed for spoiler reasons but also because it doesn't jibe with and isn't worthy of the wickedly irreverent tone proceeding it. The attempt to inject character-based emotion, indeed schmaltz, fails. Questions are raised and not answered, and there's a more-awkward-than-usual attempt to set-up a sequel.
Working off a story idea that's been bouncing around Hollywood for a dozen years, Hancock's filmmakers don't have the courage of their concept. They've been rushing, not to keep the viewer off balance but out of insecurity and a slavish need to address the concerns of test audiences. Will Smith, fans of addled superheroes, and summer moviegoers all deserve better.
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated "PG-13" for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence and language.)
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