Hancock (2008)

All han, no cock. This film is going to be panned. The reasons are primarily poor direction and a lousy sense of tone. For a film billed as a big blockbuster, Hancock lacks any sense of the spectacular. Instead it feels remarkably small, introspective and slight. That said, Hancock did pass the minimum standard of a Hollywood mall movie, I was reasonably entertained during the course of the film, no doubt because of Will Smith‘s very bankable charisma. During the walk to the car, however, my estimation of the flick starting taking a nose dive.

The premise is that Hancock (Smith) is the only superhero in the world, and as a result, he’s a drunk hateful slob. The first quarter or so of the film shows Hancock drunkenly trashing half of Los Angeles to save the day. It’s big budget slapstick and at times pretty damned funny. He’s a superhero with terrible PR but fortunately Ray (Jason Bateman), a PR guy, steps into reform the hero’s image. This includes getting him to don a superhero suit, learn to be nice to the cops, and to go to jail for a spell to serve out the 600 or so warrants for his arrest. In jail, he goes to AA and generally learns to stop being a jerk. At this point, with the film’s slapstick beginning souring into a redemption drama, I grew worried that the film wouldn’t have the energy to make it across the finish line. But no fear, there’s a twist. SPOILER ALERT: Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron) is like Hancock a superhero and an immortal. And apparently they were lovers for a few thousand years but Hancock doesn’t remember that. He’s had amnesia for the past 80. So they fight, which includes trashing Hollywood for some reason. Ray finds out, of course. Suddenly, the movie becomes a domestic drama. By the time the movie ends, all of the energy of the first 20 or so minutes have completely dissipated.

Reportedly, this script has been bouncing around Hollywood for a long time and it has the feeling of having been reworked way too many times. Thematically, it hints at more interesting subtexts that never really materialize. Is Hancock a metaphor for American power in the cold war? Is it a reworking of the superhero genre? Is this a satire about power of PR? There’s so much fertile ground here that never gets mined, which is too bad. Instead, we get a movie that’s shallow and incoherent.

Director Peter Berg can’t seem to decide what kind of flick he’s making here. A farce? A family Drama? The tone of this movie is all over the map. Perhaps the low point of this incoherence was when Hancock was in prison and threatened by a couple thugs. The hero in turn threatens the thugs with jamming the head of one up the ass of the other. And then he does. Not only does Berg show the grizzly aftermath — which is both crass and completely unbelievable — but he then, inexplicably, has the Sanford and Son theme song kick in. WTF?

His sense of Los Angeles geography is similarly sloppy. This is a pet peeve of mine, especially after watching Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself. In the beginning of movie, Hancock is battling some baddies downtown who make a left turn and suddenly they’re all in the LAX area, some 15 miles away. Some explosions happen and then they are suddenly back in downtown. If this were the movie’s one sin, I wouldn’t beef. But this seems to speak to a higher level of sloppiness that permeates the film. But his most obvious — and damning — mistake is his directing style has been lifted straight from Paul Greengrass or Michael Mann (who produced the film). It works for Greengrass and Mann because they aren’t trying to be funny. Hancock, in theory, is. The Bourne Ultimatum-style shaking camera is plainly wrong for this script.

Will Smith manages to almost keep the movie watchable. But if you possess even the barest of critical faculties, you will probably have an annoying walk to the car.

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