Thursday, October 2, 2008


The Will Smith superhero saga "Hancock," co-starring Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman, qualifies as the most original superhero movie of summer 2008. Indeed, "Friday Night Lights" director Peter Berg with "Hostage" scenarist Vincent Ngo and "X-Files" writer Vince Galligan devote themselves entirely to the origins of their offbeat and unusual titan and leave everything wide open for an inevitable sequel. This amusing, irreverent, occasionally violent comedy-drama boasts a dynamic cast, a tidy 92-minute running time, and an inventive premise brimming with audacity that more than compensates for its chief liability, shoddy computer generated special effects that appear campy rather than cool. As much as "Hancock" (*** out of ****) poke fun at superheroes, it also details the disadvantages that come with being a superhero. Adam Sandler got the ball rolling earlier with "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" where he played an ordinary guy with superhero characteristics. "Hancock" takes the ordinary guy with superhero powers like "Zohan" to even greater heights. The closest that anybody has come to making something like "Hancock" is the cable series "Smallville" where young Clark Kent never dons superhero spandex, but he possesses the power to thwart evil.

Basically, "Hancock" is an enigmatic hero. The filmmakers assail us with his superhuman feats and the troubles that he spawns long before they reveal his origins. Unlike all superheroes, Hancock is a homeless person who guzzles far too much liquor for his good. However, when adversity arises, Hancock can hurl himself into the air and through the skies at supersonic speed to settle the score. Bullets ricochet off his impervious physique, and he can hoist things ten times his own weight. Hancock's problem is his unruly attitude. He wrestles with an anger management problem. Further, he creates more problems than he solves with his superhero powers. In the opening scene, for example, he rids Los Angeles of three Asians in a SUV joyriding on the freeway who blasting away motorists with submachine guns. Hancock rips the roof off their SUV and suggests that they surrender. They try to riddle him with lead, but they only shatter his whiskey bottle. Hancock is so upset at the loss of good liquor that he digs his heels into the pavement and halts their SUV. Afterward, he flies away with them screaming in their SUV and impales the vehicle on the tower of the Capitol Records building. Everybody in Los Angeles hates Hancock, and they wish he would leave the city.

Hancock's salvation lies with a schmucky public relations guru, Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman of "The Kingdom"); Hancock saves Ray when poor Ray finds himself trapped in traffic gridlock at a railroad crossing. Naturally, Hancock creates more havoc when he tries to help out society. He flips Ray's car onto another vehicle and stops the locomotive dead on its tracks with his body. Predictably, a string of boxcars connected to the engine jackknife and pile up into huge mess. Since Hancock saves his life, Ray repays him with his public relations savvy. Ray convinces Hancock to serve time in prison as a way to gain the respect of the public. The District Attorney has leveled lots of charges against the superhero, but he has had no way to make them stick. Initially, Hancock hates Ray's plan, but Ray assures him that the crime on the streets that results from his absence will prompt the police chief to spring him from prison. Mind you, it doesn't take long for a real scumbag to rise to the occasion and take hostages in a bank robbery. Meantime, Ray has gotten Hancock to shave, soften his image, complement the authorities for a job well done, and don an X-Men style flight suit. At this point, "Hancock" takes a surprising turn and veers off into another direction. "Hancock" looks a little like "Highlander" in this respect as the filmmakers provide everything that we need to know about him that ties up all the loose ends.

"Hancock" is a refreshing change of pace for a superhero movie. Good movies take chiseled-in-stone conventions and shatter them for maximum effect. This superhero satire delivers beautifully with its reinvention of the superhero. Will Smith gets to play a character with some tragic depth and he undergoes change later on during the course of the action. Alas, the special effects are pretty substandard, and the vengeful villain named Red (Eddie Marsan of "Mission Impossible 3") never poses a serious challenge to "Hancock." In fact, Ray comes to Hancock's rescue in another surprising turnabout. The biggest surprise of the movie is "├ćon Flux" actress Charlize Theron. She plays Ray's meek, mild-mannered wife Mary. She turns out to be more than anybody bargained for, including our superheroic superhero. Saying anymore about Mary would spoil the surprise about her character. Altogether, despite is obvious faults, "Hancock" ranks as Will Smith's best science fiction fare since "Men-in-Black."

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