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HANCOCK (director: Peter Berg; screenwriters: Vincent Ngo/Vince Gilligan; cinematographer: Tobias A. Schliessler; editors: Colby Parker Jr./Paul Rubell; music: John Powell; cast: Will Smith (John Hancock), Charlize Theron (Mary Embrey), Jason Bateman (Ray Embrey), Jae Head (Aaron Embrey), Eddie Marsan (Red), David Mattey (Man Mountain), Maetrix Fitten (Matrix), Thomas Lennon (Mike), Johnny Galecki (Jeremy); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Akiva Goldsman/James Lassiter/Michael Mann/Will Smith; Columbia; 2008)
“Has a promising premise.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Another week and another weak comic book based blockbuster movie hits the multiplexes. Actor-turned-director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”/”The Kingdom”/”The Rundown”) helms this action-packed superhero comic book story that has a promising premise (a superhero can have a flawed personality like an ordinary person and doesn’t have to be likable to fight crime, thereby drawing a comparison of superheroes to sports idols) but drops the ball by its poor execution and by becoming increasingly muddled as the story develops. Will Smith, the likable Teflon actor, is in another underwhelming film that I assume should nevertheless be a box office smash (the public seems to like Smith and these comic book stories, and the studios know what to do with a gravy train when they see ’em rolling along). It’s too bad writers Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan never manage to keep it from being more than a slight story that’s filled with too many annoying asshole jokes and juvenile bare derriere sight gags.

The big joke about this one is that our misanthropic superhero (found with a fractured skull in a Miami hospital only to miraculously self-heal but without a memory of his birth, who also can fly, have bullets bounce off him, doesn’t age and has super strength) is a bad-ass drunken homeless black dude who has taken the name of America’s prominent signer of the Declaration of Independence, the patriotic John Hancock (Will Smith). This flawed savior of mankind is a profane, slovenly attired (dressed in rags and sports a ghetto-like wool cap), and is an ass-grabbing womanizer. Hancock is shown in the opening scene to be an asshole causing 9 million dollars damage to LA’s freeway after he awakens on a street bench from sleeping off a drunken binge and then clumsily apprehends three gangbangers toting high-powered weapons, who are in a freeway chase with the cops. His crime-fighting efforts are so destructive and he acts so surly, that he’s not appreciated by the public to keep them safe even if it’s in his DNA to be their protector.

The film quickly shifts into another gear and seems like another film when Hancock rescues a wealthy do-gooder who ‘wants to change the world,’ PR man Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), from being hit by an oncoming train while he’s stuck in his car on the railroad tracks. The good-natured Ray’s obsessed with running a PR campaign aimed at getting big corporations to distribute their products to the needy for free, and in appreciation for the rescue invites Hancock to his house for Thursday’s family meatball and spaghetti meal. The superhero is introduced to Ray’s adorable hero-worshiping school-aged son Aaron (Jae Head) and his ideal suburban wife Mary (Charlize Theron), who pretends to dislike Hancock. Later, after Ray does a makeover on Hancock to make him more presentable to the public, do we find out the link between Hancock and Mary (a complicated Plato-like visionary explanation about the origins of mankind that the film mishandles and leaves everything half-baked, as the more it tries to explain itself the more ridiculous becomes the explanation). That weighty but totally absurd additional plot line is the only suspense in the film that needs to be resolved, as everything else goes by way of conventional resolution. Ray rehabilitates his man who is now garbed in a cute leather superhero outfit, is polite to those he rescues, tells the police “good job” even if that’s not so, stops destroying asphalt streets and speaks more corporate so that the public begins to like him. By following his PR guru’s advice, he wins instant public favor when he takes out a vicious gang of bank robbers who have hostages in compromising positions.

This confusing mainstream film finagled a money making PG-13 rating from the MPAA ratings board by cutting the film according to their demands. Which goes to show you how far they are willing to go to make sure they get a good return on their investment, so I wouldn’t put much stock in looking for much that is arty here (though I did appreciate the comic satire on the PR job). When Smith’s unsympathetic character is quickly resurrected into a good guy, we’re supposed to feel all’s well again and the film’s superhero is back on track. It doesn’t matter in the comic book world that neither behavioral mood swing can be explained with any logic, that’s just the way it goes. But to like this film you must accept that and just about everything else it throws out there–something I just couldn’t do, as one must somehow believe in the story and its characters for the film to work and that never happened.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”