Hancock (6/10)

Like last year’s semi-disappointment of “I Am Legend,” this year’s Will Smith vehicle “Hancock” arrives with the same mix of decent entertainment unfortunately balanced out by a wildly schizophrenic storyline. The similarities between these two pictures is striking: both have very solid characters at the center, both’s first halves are extremely well constructed, and both fall apart around the mid-section and only get worse as they go along, ending on a pretty ridiculous note that fails to take full advantage of the potential given to it by the premise.

Will Smith is John Hancock, a homeless drunkard bum with super powers, rudely woken up one morning by a kid who’s informing him that there’s someone who needs his help. Off he blasts into the air, leaving a smattering of concrete below him and wreckage wherever he goes, always apprehending the bad guys but also costing the city millions of dollars in damages in the meantime.

Cue Ray Embrey, a struggling publicist played by Jason Bateman, who offers to help Hancock build up his public image so that people don’t hate him so much anymore. Not only will this enable Hancock to get back on his own two feet, but it will get Embrey’s foot in the door as well. Bateman’s chemistry with Smith is part of what will drive audience interest in the film, but after awhile it becomes grating and seems like little more than a simple father talking to a son, and it’s difficult to understand why Hancock will take crap from absolutely nobody except Embrey.

For the first forty or so minutes of the film, we’re having a lot of fun with Hancock. He’s a superhero we’ve never really seen before, the kind who absolutely does not give a crap about anything he says or does. Smith gives Hancock a bit of a human touch even as he’s smashing cars down onto buildings hundreds of stories high, and despite the fact that he’s a complete asshole, we like him. He realizes he needs to do his duty, but he’s not going to be happy about it. One huge problem with this, though – every single stunt is shown in the trailers, and though I usually don’t fault films for their advertising campaigns, this is worse than the big plot reveal in the “Vantage Point” trailer earlier this year. What’s the point in watching Hancock wreak some havoc if you’re going to show us all the havoc he’s wreaking in the trailer?

In any case, it’s still kinda fun bouncing all over the place as Hancock destroys things, but then he becomes a giant wimp, content to follow Embrey around like a little puppy dog and destroying minimal things. Here and there he starts mis-behavin’, and audiences will be grateful for it, but it’s not enough. Hancock honestly gets boring once Embrey starts working on him too much, and here I have to find fault with Smith, who can’t seem to decide who Hancock is unless he’s scowling.

So up until this point, everything seems like it’s pointing to the fact that we’re watching a bit of a cartoonish world that is willing to have fun and not take itself too seriously. But then a huge plot point emerges, which I won’t give away, but it alters the entire course of the story and changes it from this quiet focus of one man’s struggle to some kind of weird comic book allusion.

For whatever reason the writer/director chose to go this way in the story, it ends up feeling like they didn’t give the character of Hancock a chance. Whereas he’s initially the center and we get to know him, he suddenly changes into this side character in a grander story arc that is more ridiculous than it chooses to acknowledge. It’s extremely sad and disappointing, considering the potential places they could have gone with the character. It’s clear why they went that way – they were making a movie about a superhero, so they chose to incorporate some classic superhero elements. But why make a common movie when you can make an uncommon one? You have the premise of a superhero who doesn’t give a f**k, you don’t need the crutch of a script-writer who doesn’t seem to give one either. Hancock can be a hell of a good time for the most part, and its first half overshadows the badness of the second half by enough of a margin to make it worth a ticket. Just don’t go in expecting much more than the usual superhero humdrum.

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