Starring: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman
Director: Peter Berg
Release Date: July 2, 2008
Running Time: 92 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
With the exception of the title, I have been starring at a blank word document for about half an hour. In my head, this film has rated 1 star to 4 stars and back. Even now, I have no idea how it’s going to end up.
Hancock (Will Smith) is the anti-superhero. When he’s not saving peoples lives he is passed out drunk on a street corner somewhere or drinking himself into a stupor on his way to being passed out somewhere. He is a mess. When he isn’t drunk, he is helping save the city from random low-end thugs. I use the term “helping” loosely because his nonchalant approach to property damage mid-rescue seems to be a great source of displeasure for those in the city he is trying to help. His antics finally become too much of a cross to bear and the city turns against him. It is curious that he doesn’t seem at all phased by the fact that people seem to despise his existence yet still keeps coming to their rescue.
When he saves the life of a fledgling PR executive, Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), Hancock is given an interesting proposal: allow Ray to help him clean up his image so the town can realize that they really do need him around, thereby giving him renewed purpose. Sounds like a win for everyone but Ray’s wife, Mary (Charlize Theron) has her doubts. The interaction between Hancock and Ray are some of the best parts of the movie. As for Hancock himself, I liked him more when he was the bitter asshole that nobody liked more than the “corporate” superhero they tried to turn him in to. Story-wise, it would have been an interesting concept to allow Hancock to continue to being the sarcastic jerk he always was and make the city change their approach to dealing with him. After all, they were the ones who stood to gain the most from his abilities.
For as upbeat and silly as the movie is portrayed, there is something very dark lying just below the surface. That is part of the problem with Hancock. There were traces of really interesting angles on the superhero cliché, but always just out of reach. The premise itself is intriguing but it’s almost as if they weren’t sure how to play it consistently. The beginning of the movie had fascinating story elements but the CGI was so bad it was almost a distraction, the middle had some great starting points for plot advances that went nowhere to make room for more action, and the end was just a sloppy, shameless pile of sappy Legend of Bagger Vance-type sentiment. Mixed bag doesn’t begin to describe how I felt watching this. Every time it felt like they were heading in a direction that could get things back on track, something stupid happened that made me shake my head in shame. It’s like watching Deal or No Deal and seeing some moron piss away offer after offer from the banker that would change their life forever on the slim chance that they have the million dollar case until you finally get so frustrated with their ignorance and arrogance that you hope they walk out of there with the penny just to prove a point.
But for all of its problems, Hancock wasn’t a complete waste; just a fistful of wasted opportunity. There is something to be said about watching the story of a superhero that isn’t based on material we are all familiar with beforehand. There are inherent risks to this approach but the originality is refreshing. If only they could have figured out how to harness those ideas into a movie worthy of its intentions.
And there’s the rub.
* * ½ out of * * * *