July 10, 2008

Hancock

Will Smith is a drunken superhero in 'Hancock'Hancock is a mess. This is a movie that, like its title character, lacks purpose and direction. Hey, this is funny, I thought to myself as I watched. Why is everyone so down on the movie? And then it ended, just as the movie seemed to be gearing up for its second act.

There is a climax, albeit a rather lackluster one, but it's plopped down right after we've finally gotten a hang of all the relationships. The romantic leads' very miniscule shared screen time is dominated by scenes where Hancock asks what the hell is going on.

He's confused because eighty years ago he woke up in the hospital with no memory and a whole bevy of superpowers. He's filled the decades since with heroics and hangovers that dull a sense of longing for something that he can't quite place. Like Marty McFly from Back to the Future, he's got a bit of a temper problem and really doesn't like being called a certain word. He seems destined to continue on his self-destructive — really, just plain destructive — path indefinitely until he saves a do-gooder PR flack from a train wreck and gets invited to dinner as a show of gratitude.

Hancock has a major impact on the PR flack and his family, and they on him. He works to clean up his act, and public opinion turns in his favor. I actually appreciated the pro-responsibility message of the movie, but I wish it had come in better packaging. Hancock's journey is largely passive — totally submissive to the PR flack's patient direction and the PR flack's wife's fiery declarations. His only truly independent decision comes at the end of the picture, and the build-up isn't sufficient enough for his sacrifice to carry any real meaning.

There are some deliciously un-P.C. moments scattered throughout the first half of the film, though most have been spoiled by the advertising campaign. This movie had a rough go getting through the MPAA, and much of the movie's off-color flavor seems to have been lost in the process. Will Smith makes the most of a severely underwritten character; his Hancock seems to process everything that happens around him though a world-weary haze, like he isn't surprised but he somehow expected better. As the PR flack, Jason Bateman does a solid job playing the same happy-go-lucky mortal that Luke Wilson and Dick York have played before him. His even-keeled response to even the most shocking and extraordinary developments was endearing, though his nice guy nagging to do the right thing quickly becomes trying. Charlize Theron handles the wild change from stone-cold psycho in the first half of the film to bereaved martyr in the second as well as can be expected.

The ending is interesting and complex, and promises a movie full of complex characters and emotions that it has no time to deliver. The first half is a lot of fun, though each step in Hancock's rehabilitation makes the movie a little more bland. Had the movie not waited until the 11th hour to declare its ambitions, the filmmakers might have had something &151; a Highlander-esque world with polytheistic overtones. I don't mind a bait and switch, if it's interesting and well-executed. The plot twist in Hancock, in addition to being ruined in the trailers, is ultimately neither.(**)


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