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Saturday, September 3, 2011

HANCOCK -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review was written during the film's initial theatrical run.)

HANCOCK (2008), this year's big-budget 4th of July offering from Will Smith to his fans, is neither as much fun as MEN IN BLACK or INDEPENDENCE DAY, nor as horrible as WILD, WILD WEST.   It sorta bounces around between those two extremes, entertaining me for a few moments here and there before lapsing into passages that had me not really caring whether or not I even finished watching the whole disappointing thing.

Hancock (Smith) is a surly, alcoholic bum whom we find sleeping on a sidewalk bench as the movie opens.  But when he's told that there's a van full of heavily-armed criminals in a high-speed pursuit on the freeway, he grabs his bottle of cheap booze and drunkenly flies to the scene.  While he succeeds in stopping the bad guys, his crude, haphazard methods also cause millions of dollars worth of damage and public outrage. 

Later, when kindhearted, green-livin' public relations man Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) finds himself stuck on the tracks with a freight train bearing down on him, Hancock flings his car away and stops the train cold, causing--you guessed it--millions of dollars worth of damage.  Unlike Superman, this sad-sack superhero just doesn't bother to think his heroic deeds through before wading into action.  However, the grateful Ray invites Hancock home to dinner to meet his lovely wife Mary (Charlize Theron) and admiring son Aaron (Jae Head), and to give Hancock some pointers on how to improve his public image and more efficiently use his super powers without leaving such wanton destruction and negative publicity in his wake.

The superhero stuff, of course, is what makes HANCOCK intermittently entertaining.  It's fun to watch this comic variation of the Bruce Willis character in UNBREAKABLE blundering his way into tense situations and handling them in the most egregious, irresponsible ways possible.  It's also exciting and funny when, after finally donning the superhero costume Ray gives him and following some of his helpful advice, Hancock polishes his image by heroically saving the day when a group of ruthless bank robbers with hostages wired to explode begin shooting up a whole city block. 

Unfortunately, the movie doesn't really know what to do with itself when fun things like this aren't happening.  An earlier sequence which finds Hancock in prison for his misdeeds doesn't really go anywhere, and one particular scene in which he inserts a convict's head into another convict's ass, aside from being rather juvenile, is downright farcical.  I might accept such gross absurdity in a MEN IN BLACK-type live-action cartoon (maybe), but HANCOCK also wants to turn all heartrending and semi-realistic before it's through.  It's almost like a collision between "Heroes" and POLICE ACADEMY. 

A surprise plot-twist that occurs shortly before the halfway mark leads to vague, mystical revelations about Hancock's HIGHLANDER-esque past and some increasingly straight-faced melodrama.  It also results in a superhero battle right out of the tiresome Neo vs. Agent Smith showdown in MATRIX:REVOLUTIONS (complete with half-baked CGI weather effects slathered on for no good reason), by way of SUPERMAN II, with the sort of supercharged personal conflicts that are better suited to an X-MEN story.  To make up for the fact that there's no super-villain, we also get a bland trio of regular criminals out for revenge against our hero, but they end up serving merely as a plot contrivance.

Thank goodness, Will Smith is good enough to finesse his way through it all without much trouble.  Charlize Theron is also effective as Mary, mainly because her character is pretty consistently serious throughout, although she has her share of absurd moments. I was surprised when the closing credits revealed that Ray Embrey was played by Justin Bateman--wow, I thought he was still a teenager or something.  Anyway, he does a good job of making Ray warm, likable, and funny.  As Ray and Mary's son, Aaron, Jae Head has an appealingly natural quality.  Nancy Grace appears as herself in an unwelcome cameo.

Most of the special effects are pretty good, especially in the opening freeway chase, the train rescue, and the bank robbery sequence.  But then there's that hinky, cartoonish CGI that takes me out of the movie every time.  When multiple tornados and other weather anomalies descend upon the city during the big battle scene, it's just plain crummy-looking.  Really, this kind of stuff needs considerable refinement if filmmakers are going to continue relying on it so much.  Worse, Peter Berg's direction of the quieter scenes is clumsy, and the poor cinematography and editing often make the movie look much cheaper than it is. 

HANCOCK has its crowd-pleasing moments of big summer fun, but they're scattered within an inconsistent hodgepodge of comic book superheroics, somber pathos, and outlandish farce.  Although the ending tries to evoke stirring memories of SPIDERMAN, Tim Burton's BATMAN, and, surprisingly, DAREDEVIL, I found my interest in this particular tale waning long before any hopes for a sequel.  Not only did I not walk out of the theater eager for the impending DVD release, but the main image from the movie that lingered in my mind--regrettably--was that of a guy with his head rammed up another guy's ass.

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