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Dustin Putman

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Hancock  (2008)
1 Stars
Directed by Peter Berg.
Cast: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Jae Head, Eddie Marsan, David Mattey, Maetrix Fitten, Thomas Lennon, Johnny Galecki, Daeg Faerch, Akiva Goldsman, Michael Mann, Brad Leland, Trieu Tran, Nancy Grace.
2008 – 92 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 27, 2008.
A big-budget summer tentpole every bit as good as 1999's "Wild Wild West," "Hancock" succeeds only at putting an end to Will Smith's recent hot streak with 2006's "The Pursuit of Happyness" and 2007's "I Am Legend." Here, Smith plays the title role of John Hancock, a drunk living in Los Angeles who also happens to be an immortal superhero. With boundless strength and the ability to fly, Hancock halfheartedly saves people in danger and fights the bad guys, but in doing so he has also left the city disgruntled over the damage left in his wake. After stopping a train from mowing over PR guy Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), the would-be victim welcomes him into his home and aims to turn things around for Hancock by putting him in the press' good graces.

Where "Hancock" goes next shouldn't be given away, but be forewarned that it's no place beneficial. Director Peter Berg (2007's "The Kingdom") and screenwriters Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan endeavor to create a superhero that isn't based on a comic book, but that is the only novel twist they've got going for them. This is a giant mess of a movie, one that clearly wasn't thought out enough in the script stage before it went into production. The action set-pieces, if one can call them that, are far from thrilling, just a bunch of CGI and poor greenscreen work without a modicum of editorial rhythm or wonder. In one form or another, they've all been seen before, and with a lot more inspiration.

Tonally, "Hancock" is all over the place. The first hour or so is largely comedic, setting the viewer up for a mindless but virtually painless popcorn flick along the lines of 1997's "Men in Black." Only one scene actually earns laughs—Hancock puts the smackdown on a French kid named Michel (a standout Daeg Faerch, young Michael Myers in Rob Zombie's 2007 "Halloween" remake) who has been bullying Ray's son, Aaron (Jae Head)—while the rest of the gags are stale, predictable and uninspired. A truly unfortunate moment where Hancock follows through on his threat of sticking a guy's head up another's backside is best forgotten. Before the shift is made into darker territory, director Peter Berg is at a loss for finding focus in a story that meanders from scene to scene with remarkably little rooting interest. Of course, it doesn't help that the hero of the piece is a smarmy, depressing, homophobic schmuck not worth caring about, and the other two leads characters, Ray and his wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), are sparkless bores.

The film's most egregious mistake, though, is in attempting to get serious and even existential in the third act. This not only clashes with what has come before it, but shines a spotlight on the thematic disingenuousness of a plot that wants to say something about a living being's mortality without actually following through on it. The climax, complete with weepy music and shots of characters in life-or-death agony, is like a "Very Special" finale episode of "Grey's Anatomy" and has no place whatsoever in "Hancock." Worse still, the blatantly stupid developments that occur in the final minutes are riddled with enormous plot holes and a total disregard for the viewer's intelligence. It's not just misguided, it's insulting.

Performances are as forgettable as the rest of it. Will Smith fails to bring his usual charm to a protagonist who is lacking charm even when he supposedly makes a turnaround and sees the error of his ways. Jason Bateman (2007's "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium") is wasted as Ray. Charlize Theron (2008's "Sleepwalking"), finally wearing make-up again onscreen, overplays her early scenes before getting bogged down in the rest of the story's ridiculous turns. All three of them—Smith, Bateman and Theron—have seen far better days. They do not connect to each other, or to the audience, and merely seem to be going through the paces of a "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" knockoff. Arriving in theaters a mere five days after the veritably exciting and imaginative "Wanted," "Hancock" will hopefully be seen for what it really is: a lifeless, empty, condescending fraud.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman