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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Review: Hancock

Hancock is about one half of a good movie. The other half is about as bad as any big release I’ve seen in a while.

The first half of the movie, where we are introduced to the title character, is fun and interesting. Hancock, as played by Will Smith, is a pathetic bum who lives between a dilapidated trailer and whichever bench he winds up on after tying on a really good bender. He’s angry, uncaring, and lost--and he looks more like a homeless panhandler than he does a super-strong man impervious to bullets and with the power of flight.

At every turn he is offending someone or destroying something without showing anything resembling forethought.

When he saves the life of a PR man set on changing the world, he invites a new force into his life that leads him on the path to adulthood. Ultimately, the entire first half of the movie captures a boy becoming a man--Hancock learning to balance both the creative and destructive energy that every boy feels in order to create a happier world for himself and the people he cares about.

Hancock had been so destructive in his heroism that the LA DA’s office wants to put him in jail--a laughable concept for a guy who can easily rip through the walls and fly away. But Ray Embry, the PR man played by a very solid Jason Bateman, convinces Hancock to turn himself in and submit to the city’s justice. It’s a ploy to let the city learn how much they miss the crimestopper in the face of ever rising violence, but it also provides one of the most telling scenes of the first half of the film.

While making basketball shots from extreme distances, Hancock misses and the ball bounces well outside of the prison. Without a thought, he launches himself out of the prison yard and grabs the ball. For a moment he looks at the prison and then away into the distance--obviously he has the power to walk or fly away and nothing that the guards can do would stop him. The scene grows tense as the other inmates and the guards look on; he finally launches himself into the sky and we’re still not sure of his decision. When he lands back inside the fence, you just know that he’s made one of his first adult decisions.

The boy would have known that he had the power to do what he wanted to do: walk away and leave the suckers behind. The adult realizes that sometimes we do things out of responsibility and necessity: being grown up isn’t always easy. Combined with the way Hancock has looked at Ray’s family, very obviously wanting the love and care that comes from that kind of intimacy, Hancock is on his way to accepting his role as a human being with the capacity to make a positive change in the world--a role that doesn’t hinge on superpowers, but on making the right decisions.

Then the film gets shot to hell in the second half with ridiculous plot twists and phenomenally underdeveloped plot points that strip away the messages of the fist half. I won’t spoil the twists, but I would be surprised if most viewers didn’t see the really big reveal coming--and then rolled their eyes at the glib explanations and the foolish way that it leads to big, city-crushing fights and mortal danger for our hero. What I can say is that all the good will that I felt about midway through was pummeled into submission by a super-stupid plot and script.

It really could have been better; it had a good premise and an interesting start.

Here’s a warning, though: it’s fairly violent, quite profane, and not particularly family-friendly. Some of the humor is juvenile, but not particularly graceful--one scene in which Hancock shoves a man’s head up another man’s butt is both crass and dumb, but not at all funny. I wouldn’t necessarily advise bringing the little kids.

Beside Smith and Bateman there isn’t much character to develop, leaving a typically gorgeous Charlize Theron underutilized. The visual effects are decent but not particularly impressive and the same could be said for the cinematography overall. In fact, in most respects it’s a very workmanlike and disappointing effort for something that cost upwards of $150 million. Smith and Bateman salvage a bit of the thing as does an opening act that reaches just a tiny bit higher than most summer action movies. A lazy close, not nearly enough humor, and a seriously flawed plot make this one good to skip.

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