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HANCOCK (2008) *** movie review by COOP

Posted on July 10th, 2008
Posted on July 10th, 2008

With all the hype of the established comic book franchises assaulting the screens this summer, “Hancock” nearly flew under the radar. Although “Hancock” is not adapted from a comic book, its creators came up with a simple, yet interesting premise to sell it to the studios: What if the world’s only superhero was an alcoholic jerk?

You can exploit a formula for a long time before it eventually turns old and tiresome. Add a shaky political climate to that mix and you filmmakers itching to break genre rules and an audience willing to accept the gamble. It happened in the 1970’s in the wake of Vietnam. Suddenly westerns and cop dramas featured good guys that weren’t so good and tragic endings became commonplace. Hancock is more of a remedial, Hollywood-ish attempt at a revisionist superhero film, but I’m glad it showed up. The real revisionist superhero film, “Watchmen,” will no doubt shock audiences on March 2009 with its depiction of heroes as sociopaths and mass murderers (these guys make Batman look like Gandhi). Hancock is no “Watchmen,” but it’s a step in the so wrong, it’s right direction.

Too bad director/former actor Peter Berg (“The Kingdom,” “Friday Night Lights”) couldn’t keep the tone consistent. The film starts off promising as armed robbers shoot their way through police and traffic on a Los Angeles freeway. Where’s Hancock (Will Smith), the infamous superhero and defender of the city? Passed out drunk on a downtown bench. After a concerned citizen shakes him awake, he lazily springs into action. He manages to capture the bad guys, but causes millions in damage in the process. Later he once again causes expensive destruction while saving a down-on-his-luck public relations agent, Ray (Jason Bateman), from being crushed by a train. Good-hearted Ray offers to represent Hancock and repair his image with the general public. Hancock, lonely and tired of being called names, reluctantly decides to take Ray up on his offer, especially after meeting Ray’s attractive wife, Mary (Charlize Theron) who acts strangely suspicious in Hancock’s presence.

The film starts off as an action comedy then quickly turns dramatic when we witness the true depth of Hancock’s misery and sadness. He has no identity, no family and no friends. He feels compelled to help and save others but gets no love from the public due to the collateral damage he causes. To cope he drinks which only makes matters worse. Despite his poor attitude we can see deep down he has a good heart and we cheer when he starts showing improvement. Then the twist happens. If you didn’t realize there was a twist, then you weren’t watching the trailers and TV spots close enough. I knew immediately “Hancock” was hiding something when the previews omitted an essential element required in a superhero film. Where is the villain? Who or what is Hancock fighting against? The studio intentionally hid this from the audience in the trailers, not only to protect the twist, but to hide the film’s gaping weak point. Up until the twist, the film had me 100%. After the revelation, the film took a turn in a less interesting direction and my enthusiasm waned.

That’s not to say I count the film a failure. I found the performances top-notch with Will Smith, once again, proving why he’s such a box office draw. Over the years, he’s perfected his range to include comedy, drama and action in the same film and few do it better than him these days. As long as he keeps the quality high (and as long as the “Governator” doesn’t make a comeback), fans will continue to flock to his summer blockbusters. Jason Bateman, in a career comeback that has surprised and delighted both fans and critics, also plays it straight and comedic. From his return to quality TV comedy in “Arrested Development” to his turn in the Oscar-winning “Juno,” his star rises once again. Let’s hope he keeps the momentum going. Charlize Theron… I won’t say much about her. Not great, yet not bad either. The powers that be barely acknowledged her in the trailers and I have a feeling a lower-profile actress could’ve benefitted the film rather than trying to hide the fact an Oscar-winning actress has a mysterious part in it.

The plot holes and the inconsistencies in the finale killed the chances of this becoming a superhero franchise, a blunder I consider a shamefully wasted opportunity. For once, I believe this film would’ve succeeded if it went in the direction the audience expected it to go in. I didn’t care as much where Hancock came from as long as he found the redemption he was looking for. “Iron Man” did this perfectly. So did “Batman.” It’s a viable formula and I don’t mind seeing it over and over as long as I care about the characters. Berg and Company opted for the distracting twist and paid dearly for it. I still had fun and forgave the flaw in favor of its near-perfect first half. If you need something to satisfy your superhero-itch until “The Dark Knight,” you might consider giving “Hancock” a fair chance.

Sadly, I wouldn’t recommend this at all for children under 13. A few of the scenes were repulsively foul and uncalled for (i.e. Hancock vs. the two prison inmates). The character of Hancock, at first, is less of a role model than Dennis Rodman at his worse. He gropes women, menaces children and swears a blue streak in front of everybody. Don’t get me wrong; I liked the guy. Even alcoholic, abusive superheroes deserve a second chance. I even learned some new curse words from him. Good for me.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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