July 02, 2008


Hancock saves the world from rising gas prices

Grade: B –

Director: Peter Berg

Starring: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, and Jason Bateman

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

There is more than one reason why the July 4th holiday is the apt time to drop Hancock into theaters. The first concert I ever attended without my parents (because, take from me, parents just don’t understand) was when DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince came to the Camp Lejeune Fieldhouse in Jacksonville, N.C. After nearly going bankrupt in the early 1990s, Will Smith was rescued from the obscurity that besets many rap stars – the opening act at my concert was MC Rob Base – by a starring role in the TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Today, Smith is a world-famous, Oscar-nominated, Scientology-spouting, box-office behemoth, and after a series of mid-summer successes beginning, appropriately enough, with Independence Day, July 4th has perennially morphed into “Big Willie Weekend.”

Smith’s summer movie tentpole this year is a boozy, reluctant super anti-hero named Hancock, short for the founding father moniker John Hancock. With immense strength, the ability to fly, and invulnerability, Hancock is the world’s lone superpower. But, decades of unchecked dominance and perceived ingratitude has fostered a surly indifference that Hancock tries to douse with bourbon and rank recalcitrance. The (bald?) eagle – his unofficial symbol – snitched into the front of his ski hat has become worn and tattered, and when Hancock tries apprehend a band of gun-toting evildoers, he causes $9 million of carnage in the process. Shock and awe, indeed.

It is an interesting American allegory, not only in regards to the current state of country’s geo-political standing but also the double-edged consequences of heroism and supremacy. However, apparently all Hancock needs is an extreme makeover and severe attitude adjustment. Enter a struggling PR consultant, Ray (Jason Bateman), who, together with his wife Mary (Charlize Theron), befriends Hancock after he saves Ray from a train wreck. Ray tackles Hancock’s arrested development by convincing him to surrender his demons and surrender to authorities, voluntarily serving time for some vaguely referenced outstanding warrant until the world realizes they need him and comes calling.

Hancock is a project that has languished in Hollywood development hell for over a decade. The net effect of too many cooks in the writers’ kitchen is a schizophrenic script that gradually jettisons the symbolism in its promising premise for a convoluted, shabby final act that at times more closely resembles a bad Highlander sequel (and, honestly, is there any other kind?). The focus shifts sharply from a light-hearted, yet biting satire to a maddening exploration into Hancock’s origins, his shadowy past relationship with Mary, and the introduction of a fleeting, flaccid ex-con/not-so-super-villain (Eddie Marsan). Simply put, the less Hancock begins to resemble us (i.e., flawed and world-weary), the less interested we become in him, even as, ironically, his immortality is compromised. We want Superman manning the wall, but we remain far more enamored with flawed demigods like Batman and Spiderman.

With his last two films, The Kingdom and the stupendous Friday Night Lights, director Peter Berg has carved out a distinctive directorial style. The fault with Hancock lies not with Berg – although the F/X effects are shockingly shoddy – or Smith, or even John Powell’s bombastic score, sampled as it is from the John Williams song book. If only the screenwriters had been as interested in saving this screenplay as they were segueing their protag into a world savior, Hancock might have registered as an effectively offbeat super-hero offering in the same vein as Superman II or M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable. Instead, Hancock eventually apes the very genre conventions it aims to parody. In other words, it becomes a standard-issue Will Smith 4th of July vehicle - try to enjoy the ride.

Neil Morris

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Better than a B-.

Everyone keeps talking about how the 2nd half sucked. Yes, there is an extreme changing of for the 2 "acts" but I still dug it OK.

The thing that stuck out to me the most was the lack of backstory for claw hand dude. All the sudden hes the leader and Im all like WTF?

It was only 90 minutes, they could have played that up some more. And they never explained (adequately for ME at least) why Charlize got made everyone hot. I mean, obviously SHES super hot, but that doesnt explain the power. Also seeing her and Jason together again made me wish that the American TV audience werent idiots and Arrested Development was still on.

Anywho, it was OK. I liked it a little more than you. The drunken him is what Iron Man shouldve been. I have always heard rumors of a scene where he was supposed to be a superhuman sex scene in the movie. Disappointed.

Other Points: If I was had superpowers, I would totally be at the White House on some "Kneel before Zod" shit. Why Wouldnt you???

It had Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds and the weird looking "young Michael Myers" kid in it. Thats worth half a letter grade right there.

Mike Epps needs to be in more movies.

Finally, I told my date that I thought the moral of the story was that a Black Man needs a White Woman to recognize his full potential. To REALLY make a brotha FLY. She didnt find that quite as witty as I did :(