Dir: Peter Berg. US. 2008. 92 mins.
A fun, fairly crisp opening hour gives way to a muddled, entirely unsatisfying ending in the action-comedy Hancock, which finds Will Smith starring as a sullen superhero trying to win over the population of Los Angeles via a very public makeover. Smith's first summer blockbuster in four years should own the box office for a week, but face stiff sci-fi action competition when Hellboy II opens hot on its heels. And there's always Wanted to contend with.
Smith hasn't had a film gross under $135 million domestically since 2001's Ali, and he's fresh from his biggest US hit in more than a decade in the form of last December's I Am Legend. This, plus the particular appeal of Smith as a superhero and the fact that Independence Day and the Men in Black films all performed robustly, makes for a potent commercial combination that will mitigate some of the mixed word-of-mouth sure to surround Hancock. All said, theatrical receipts should still be high, and Smith's international star further burnished by a movie whose visual gimmickry easily crosses borders.
When we first meet Hancock, he's swigging bourbon from a bottle and blowing his nose on his hand, hardly the behaviour audiences have come to expect from Smith. Disgruntled, sarcastic and misunderstood, Hancock gets the job done, but his heroics often leave a trail of enormous municipal damage in their wake.
After being saved by Hancock, public relations executive Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) pitches his rescuer on an image rehabilitation. He advises Hancock to turn himself in on an outstanding bench warrant for his arrest, figuring that a needy public will appreciate his act of penance and also come to fully appreciate his indispensability. Begrudgingly, Hancock acquiesces. While Ray's young son idolizes Hancock, even in his imprisoned state, Ray's wife Mary (Charlize Theron) seems to regard him much more cautiously.
When Hancock finally is summoned from jail, he foils a bank robbery that looks like it was staged by guys who might have watched Heat one time too many. Hancock also inadvertently starts learning a bit more about his past, of which he has no recollection.
Hancock gets by for the bulk of its running time on the relative strength of its character, which allows Smith both to display his roguish charm while playing against type. Smith is a master at faithfully executing a character while still bringing huge pieces of himself to the big screen, and in Hancock's sardonic nature he locates the balance that allows him to be an outsider anti-heroyet still a generally sympathetic figure.
Working with cinematographer Tobias Schliessler (Dreamgirls), director Peter Berg supplements his favoured hand-held style of filming with techno crane and dolly work, and plenty of worshipful close-ups of Smith, but the net result moves at more or less the same frenetic tack as The Kingdom. This hampers the effectiveness of some sequences, including a storm-fuelled action showdown in central Hollywood.
Hancock 's truly fatal miscalculation, however, comes in its final third, when the script, credited to Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan, tries to get into Hancock's past, but ends up peddling all sorts of incongruous information. Outright baffling choices mark the last 30-35 minutes of the movie. Interesting narrative opportunities have been discarded in favour of a twist which creates needless confusion, and saps the film of its accrued goodwill. Cramming in a robber (Eddie Marsan) foolishly bent on revenge against Hancock only makes the finale feel even more tacky and artificial.
The film's special effects work mostly sings and zings; Hancock's formless flying and crash-pad landings give the film a loose energy, and set the scene for a good number of early laughs. Bateman provides ample comic support and Theron ably fills her role, though the integrity of their characters is likewise undermined by the finale.
Weed Road Pictures
Blue Light Films
Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan
Tobias A. Schliessler
Colby Parker, Jr.