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Hancock (2008)

  • Review: * ½ (out of ****)
  • Starring: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Jae Head, Eddie Marsan, David Mattey, Maetrix Fitten
  • Director: Peter Berg (The Kingdom, The Rundown)
  • Screenplay: Vy Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan
  • Length: 92 min.
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and language.

Will Smith has become such a recognizable Independence Day blockbuster generator, that his films effortlessly make money. Even the dreadfully obnoxious Hancock managed to make piles of money despite a hole-ridden plot, decidedly horrid performances and visual effects that looked great ten years ago.

The story of a drunken superhero actively at odds with the public over his careless and reckless disregard for anyone or anything around him seemed like a good concept. Even the trailer made it seem like it might be an incredibly fun comedy. The later trailers giving away more of the film's premise without revealing its twist should have pointed to the final disappointing result, but it didn't.

Smith takes on the role of the drunken malcontent who remembers little to nothing of his past except what he's been able to glean from the pack of gum and the tickets to the movie Frankenstein he holds onto for memory's sake. Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) is a failed Public Relations man who tries to show Hancock his error-filled ways after witnessing the bile spewed at the superhero after saving him from being hit by an oncoming train.

The movie tries to push through the backstory fairly quickly while dragging its feet in revealing most of the film's bigger plot points. Running only 92 minutes, it's not surprising that very little of the story is fleshed out and most of the plot is unrelentingly weak. Vy Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan penned the script, but money-hungry studio executives might as well have written it, for the cut-and-paste narrative lacks emotional, philosophical and moral depth.

We're supposed to believe early on that Ray wants to help Hancock become more accepting of others and to put on a better public face, yet fails to admonish him for using a gay epithet when showing him pictures of superheroes from comics, going so far as to agree with him after the comment "Norwegian Homo". From there, we're doomed to listen to him tell people who haven't done anything "good job". A few times is one thing, but the gag goes on far too long, further exemplifying how clueless the scribes are about creating strong humor.

There isn't much to Smith's performance, for his character doesn't have a lot of depth and really doesn't require him to flex his acting muscles. He may find this a refreshing change of pace, but to most of us who admire him when he gives good performances, it's entirely frustrating. Charlize Theron hasn't earned much respect after her Oscar win for Monster, many disagreeing with it, but others supporting it. With performances like this, even those of us who thought she deserved the Oscar are beginning to believe that one role might have been a fluke. She's very quickly becoming the new Halle Berry.

The one kudo I can give for the film is for Bateman's performance. This is an exceedingly likeable actor who has found himself barely floating in a sea of terminable irritation. In spite of his character's lack of serious depth, he shines in every scene and seems to be making the most of it. It's easy to tell he doesn't believe in the film that much but wants to give it the old college try.

Even director Peter Berg, whose previous films haven't been spectacular but also haven't been dreadful, seems out of depth. Even the worst of directors could probably have done more with this film. Filmmaking generally results in ups and downs in narrative structure, allowing the audience to breathe between action sequences (a concept with which Michael Bay seems to have problems), but Hancock is burdened by these scenes. The film is either high adrenaline or lethargy personified.

But, everything seems to go right back to the story. It isn't so much that the film's hard to follow as it is difficult to understand. Every idea and theme is pushed on the audience but the actual whys and wherefores are nowhere to be found. Hancock's origin, revealed about two-thirds of the way through, is lightly brushed over. And when the audience wants to know the purpose of it all, the film concludes with an excruciating thud, leaving tons of unanswered questions and a muddled plot that isn't likely to be fleshed out in the inevitable sequel.