Saturday, July 5, 2008

Our Action Sequence of Discontent

Hancock is the first movie super-hero to deserve a write-up for drunk-flying. As he soars through the skies of Los Angeles, bitter that a young boy woke him from his drunken bus-stop slumber so he could intervene in a high-speed chase, his flight stands out from all the other crumby CG scene in every other super hero movie. It's erratic. If there were lanes in the sky, he'd be swerving in and out of his, and knocking over some bus stops, too.

It's not that he's still learning how to use his powers, it's that he doesn't care.

"Hancock" goes a long way simply with the ingenious casting of Will Smith in the title role. The imminently likable Smith has established himself as the quintessential action hero of his generation, and now he offers us a malcontent anti-hero who doesn't like his job.

In the film's best scene, a giant crowd surrounds Hancock after he rescues a man who couldn't get out of his car, which was stuck on the track of an oncoming train. The crowd isn't there to praise Hancock, but to critique his admittedly inept way of handling the rescue. He should have done it different, and if he had, he would have caused a whole lot less damage. They have a point, but we get the feeling that Hancock might be a little better at heroics if he weren't so insecure about the way people think of him.

The man Hancock rescues turns out to be a public-relations wizard, and he offers to help turn around the hero's image. Jason Bateman is funny as usual in the role, but Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan's screenplay could have provided more dimension (the tacked-on plot about his charity brand that will change the world notwithstanding). Nevertheless, he and Smith have a slap-happy awkward chemistry as he gets to know the hero and brings him home to meet his wife (Charlize Theron), who looks upon Hancock with suspicion and mistrust, and son, who actually likes the guy.

Running around 90 minutes, "Hancock" could have benefitted from a longer runtime to develop all its themes. As it is, it seems to throw ideas at us, then abandon them for something else. The film's villains are so poorly set up that they might as well not be in the film at all, and the third act, while full of interesting developments, devolves into aimless action right when it needs to build on its ideas.

But in its best moments, "Hancock" is good for some nice laughs and character humor, along with the requisite summer excitement.

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