Hancock
You saw my blinker, bitch.

Theatrical Release Date: 07/02/2008
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman

Once again, Will Smith returns to movie theater for the July 4th weekend, hoping to strike gold yet again. From “Independence Day” to “Men in Black” and now to “Hancock”, no matter how cliché the premise or outlandish the concept, producers know their investment is safe with Will (Heck, with worldwide box office and DVD rentals considered, even “Wild Wild West” probably made its money back). That will probably hold true for his latest film but if it weren’t for Smith’s involvement, I’d probably toss a literary hissy fit and keep from restraining myself as much as I’m about to.

“Hancock” sees Will step into the role of superhero, here to protect the innocent and defeat the evil-doers (that term holds no malice anymore, does it?). The twist here is that Hancock isn’t the standard do-gooder. He has a moral compass and uses it to protect people from harm and foil illegal acts … but he gives little regard to ancillary property damage and prefers to do so with a bottle of hard liquor firmly in hand.

During one such “heroic” act, Smith saves the life of Jason Bateman, playing a down-and-out PR pitchman. He decides to pay Hancock back by helping to reshape his image, which is far from stellar in the eyes of the media and therefore the general public (sheep!).

Unlike the original cut of the film, where statutory rape leads Hancock to jail … in the final version being released to theaters, it’s Bateman’s idea that Hancock accede to demands by the judicial system that he serve time for all of the property damage. Oh, and in case you missed it, there was a Will Smith film almost released where he commits statutory rape … umm … yeah … so that could have happened.

Rescinding that act helped the film garner a PG-13 rating rather than the R the MPAA was going to slap it with … however, I think the MPAA has once again gone cuckoo. There are so many uses of the word “asshole” that if you were to drink each time you heard it, get ready to meet John Belushi. It’s compounded by how clean Will Smith normally is … it’s sort of like hearing Morgan Freeman drop an F-bomb or two in “Wanted” … it’s just weird … and goes against the immortal words of NPH in “Undercover Brother” when he says how much he like Will Smith because “he raps happy”.

Getting back on point, from the moment Hancock goes to jail, we get all of the predictable but fun moments as Smith must curb his rude behavior to meet societal norms so he can become the hero people want and the man he should be. I can’t say much more without running into spoiler territory so I’ll just say that the addition of a figure from his past re-shifts the balance of power and the focus of the film … sadly not all for the better.

While I was genuinely interested in the dynamic between Hancock and this other person, the number of story paths that open up as a result aren’t easily resolved and definitely not within the film’s short 92 minute run time (I like brevity but there’s a few threads here that could have used some more attention).

Now, I don’t mean to be quite so hard on “Hancock” (there’s a joke in there somewhere). Will Smith is as appealing as ever (even as a rude, drunk Superman rip-off – thankfully with a different origin). That an audience can drum up so much support for such a character truly is a testament to the power Will Smith has over us all … though dropping that statutory rape scene sure helps.

Jason Bateman is a great choice to be the spark to Hancock’s new direction and outlook on life. His dry wit lends itself well to playing off of Smith’s more exuberant and jiggy comedy style. That Bateman also has the acting chops to pull off the dramatic scenes with little effort is also quite welcome.

Charlize Theron on the hand is a little bit of a quandary to me. She’s great at conveying the suffering elements but there really isn’t ever a point in the film where she can crack a genuine smile. This inner turmoil is necessary for her role but just a touch of lightness would have helped to not only provide a change in pace but also to greater contrast and highlight the darker elements to her story.

Still, my biggest complaints come not with the actors but with the script and special effects team. The screenwriters did a nice job of creating a character with a back story rife with possibilities (franchise in the works if everyone plays nice). However, given the short run time, there wasn’t enough time to play anything out to any great detail.

Also, the “villain” in the film is so ordinary … while that’s part of what makes it interesting by providing a counterpoint to the fantastic abilities Hancock possesses, it felt very weak. At least giving the bad person an above-average intellect would have helped – though it would have tossed the film into even greater comparison with Superman so I guess this was a lose-lose situation. (There’s even a music cue that’s a big rip off the Superman theme so it’s obvious the filmmakers knew what they were tip-toeing around.)

Moving on to the special effects … to put it mildly, they suck. According to IMDb, the film cost an estimated $150 million dollars (even in U.S. dollars, that’s a lot) … for that kind of change, I want action more believable than what a couple of virgins living in their mother’s basement can do by superimposing light sabers on The Three Musketeers (yes, the Charlie Sheen version). You can practically separate out each CGI element in the scenes and I have an easier time believing the world of Grand Theft Auto IV than this one most of the time. (The picture above is not doctored in any way … they spent millions to make it look like a 13 year-old with Photoshop and a 486dx processor.)

Okay … I’ve vented. I feel better now. Whether you’ll enjoy “Hancock” really comes down to one question: Do you like Will Smith? That’s the question with all of his films as he never plays a bit character … it’s either Will Smith or the highway. I happen to enjoy his characters (though differentiating between them is like solving a 5×5 Rubik’s cube) and so, overall, I enjoyed the film.

Nothing here is so amazing that it’ll change your life and it doesn’t stand up to the other action films of the summer … but I was entertained enough to give “Hancock” a 3 out of 5. Should the other superhero films be sold out and you like Will Smith, this isn’t a complete waste of your money. Waiting for DVD isn’t a bad idea either though … especially because the bad visual effects will be minimized to some degree on a smaller screen.