It is all too fitting that the lead in “Hancock” is an amnesiac, for the film in which he is featured can’t seem to comprehend just what the hell it is.

About halfway through, it suffers a cinematic concussion from which it never regains its former personality.

Both portions of this picture might have made an interesting feature given the chance to develop more thoroughly. As it stands, “Hancock” plays out like the most recent dark, brooding film incarnation of “Batman,” but starring Adam West in the form-fitting spandex suit from the TV version.

In a world where every summer superhero film is accompanied by Wal-Mart-ready action figure tie-ins, it’s rather difficult to envision the kiddies clamoring to buy the “Hancock with Scotch-Swigging Action” in which you can push the button and hear one of eight colorful expletives!

Yes, Hancock is the most reluctant of heroes, approaching his duties like a list of household chores rather than an inherent responsibility.

His attempts at rescue wind up wrecking more real estate than leaving well enough alone and now he faces the scorn of a public fed up with his slovenly approach to fighting crime.

That is, until one day he rescues an altruistic PR man (yeah, that’s about the funniest thing in the picture) played by Jason Bateman. Bateman’s Ray Embry wants to repay the super-pariah by working with him on an image makeover, helping him transform from his hobo-chic aesthetic to Fantastic Four fabulousness.

And this is the world in which “Hancock” should have remained. Pointed social commentary on celebrity life under today’s TMZ- and You Tube-controlled microscopic conditions, rejecting and denouncing any and all sorts of behavior or past transgression, and promises to reform and adhere to more “model” behavior are all hinted in a too-brief montage sequence. Witnessing Hancock stage a half-hearted press conference, admitting himself to a local prison and undergoing anger management and substance abuse classes are awkwardly amusing commentaries of today’s lifestyles of the rich and infamous (not to mention the issue race plays in the whole affair). The only thing missing is his finding Jesus in the process.

It’s not until Ray brings Hancock home to meet the family– wife Mary (played by Charlize Theron) and son Aaron (played by Jae Head) – in which the tonal shifts of the film are stitched together like some thematic Frankenstein’s monster.

It is during this portion in which we get a glimpse into Hancock’s dark, mysterious origins which are a marked contrast to the promise of joviality and satire of the first half.

Smith seems to run out of steam for this part, too. Gamely playing against his squeaky-clean image, he relishes in ticking off the general public with foul language and laws of physics-defying bodily harm. Yet when things get dark, he barely registers, coasting on tired mannerisms and feigned interest.

Theron, who plays Bateman’s adoring wife is also left with little. It’s easy to see from her first encounter with Hancock that there was some sort of past connection between the two, but when it’s revealed just what that is, the actress is swept up in the noisy chaos that marks the film’s conclusion.

The only actor who leave an impression is Theron’s one-time co-star Bateman (the two shared a storyline in the beloved, departed television show “Arrested Development”), whose deft comic abilities elicited some of the only laughs to be heard during my opening-day screening.

But even he is hindered by the questionable judgement of director Peter Berg (“The Kingdom,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Very Bad Things”). Berg obviously has potential, but has squandered it time and time again, as he does here with “Hancock.”

It’s an unwritten blockbuster law that superhero films, even if they dabble in the emotional complexities of its leads, must widen their lens and give the film and expansive, almost global, perspective that shows a city in crises or a world in peril. Not so with Berg. He instead chooses to zoom in on his subjects close enough that you can almost smell the stale scotch on Hancock’s breath.

When it finally comes to the epic confrontation at the finale, it’s edited with such a slapdash manner that there is no sense of jeopardy, or wonderment, or even much of a pulse.

Contributing to this menace-free environment is the film’s villain, whose comic book bad guy name would be “Dr. Minor Inconvenience” or perhaps “The Irritable Rash,” as little a threat as he poses.

And finally, lest you think that you are safely in the hands of audience-friendly Will Smith, not that the director was the same guy who based an entire film of a group of bachelor party participants trying to dispose of a dead hooker. In other words, bring the earmuffs and have hands ready to shield the eyes of the little ones brought into the theater to watch Mr. Man In Black battle baddies.

“Hancock” is a film that would have benefited from being either an all-out satire of the genre, or an intimate introspective drama of the isolation accompanying the job title of World Saver.

By combining the two, “Hancock” suffers from its own cinematic kryptonite, crippling it just when it should have soared into the stratosphere.

~ by usesoapfilm on July 4, 2008.

2 Responses to “‘Hancock’-blocked”

  1. What incredible about Hancock is that despite the worst marketing campaign in years and getting panned by critics almost across the board, it still managed to be a box-office hit. Over 60 million dollars so far. It just goes to show that the drawing power of Will Smith is stronger than the naysayers.

  2. I honestly think there was good kernel of an idea in this film, but its execution was sooooo off, and, you’re right, the marketing sold only half this picture. I would have loved to see this film’s second half not star Smith, but be some dissertation on the isolation that accompanies the responsibility of being a superhero (like ‘Unbreakable,’ only, um, good).

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