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Hancock Blows It

Directed by Peter Berg
Written by Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan
Sony, 2008

Well, Will Smith has been known to misfire from time to time, although this film is almost certain to not be counted as one once the box office numbers come in. Smith has been on such a critical/box office roll that it seems like everything he touches is going to be a winner. On the flipside is actor-turned-director Peter Berg, who has a definite style (shaky cam, but not too much) but hit-or-miss in his filmography: Very Bad Things, The Rundown, Friday Night Lights, and The Kingdom, a movie sorely dismissed last fall.

Hancock was sold to the American public in two ways: most prominent was the comedy, the superhero who drinks and causes more damage than prevents. This, I felt, was a good marketing strategy. Of course, moviegoers would have been blindsided by the dramatic aspects of it, which I guess Sony’s marketing team decided was important to convey in later trailers and TV spots. It also hinted at a potential surprise if you looked hard enough. And it shows that Hancock wants to change and be a better superhero. By rule, this zaps a whole lot of fun out of the movie, because the reason why we are probably going in the first place in because of all the drunken, wanton destruction by one of our most beloved movie stars. Much like any superhero, we don’t want them to find the cure for what makes them special.

In Hancock, Will Smith plays the title character, and he’s down in the dumps, and he fights crime with the added baggage of destroying a whole bunch of property. Enter Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a PR guy who is also not very good at his job: trying to get corporations to give out stuff for free and show that they care, and then finding out they in fact don’t. Ray thinks he can improve Hancock’s image, despite the protests of his wife Mary (Charlize Theron), who seems to have some sort of more personal reason for not wanting him around.

With Ray’s urging, Hancock willingly goes to jail, vowing to take anger management and enter into alcohol treatment. The ploy is such that no matter how many years they put on his incarceration, Ray figures the crime rate will go up sky high and the LAPD will need Hancock and let him out early. The unwilling superhero is barely swayed that this will work, but of course it wouldn’t matter because he could break out of jail at any time.

And LA does need Hancock, but then the film gives way to the twist and the movie takes an entirely different direction, one that can be somewhat fascinating but is underdeveloped. The whole backstory around this twist is frustratingly incomplete. Characters mention snippets of useful information that aren’t given any exploration. It isn’t very well plotted, and somewhat smacks of an idea that either came to the filmmakers as a whim (which seems the most likely) or was the basis for the whole movie in the first place, but rarely do such ideas translate into all of the surrounding events being more interesting than the twist itself.

For awhile, Hancock kept my interest, but it really lost the fun. I would have been completely OK with Hancock being an antihero the entire movie, willing the concerned public in his corner despite his flaws. And then I wondered how in the world does Sony market a sequel to this? I guess he could always become drunken and disorderly again, but I think the chance to keep the character pure (as a damaged guy) has been lost. Hancock doesn’t have any special gee-whiz powers, he’s stronger than Superman. A future installment would have a hard time distinguishing itself as just another superhero movie. I guess that’s their problem, but it just happens to rear its ugly head in the very first installment.


Comment from kw
Time: July 10, 2008, 6:10 pm

Man, I really wish this movie had been good instead of universally panned. Too bad. Such great people involved… such a great premise. How’d they go so wrong?

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