11 July 2008

Mooney at the Movies: Hancock

Hancock takes a load off. (Sony)

Hancock (B-)

Starring Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman
Written by Vincent Ngo & Vince Gilligan
Directed by Peter Berg

Hancock is a pretty gutsy for a summer flick. But anyone familiar with Peter Berg's knows that his last few pictures have been basic genre fare elevated to greatness level with good performances and, as the anti-Michael Bay: lets the audience use their brains. And here, the superhero flick gets a shake-up: our hero ain't such a good guy. Of course the anti-hero's not a new concept, but it's hard to think of a protagonist this unlikable before.

However, as this is the summer and families love Will Smith, he's not as bad as if this would've stayed true to its R-rated core. As past summers have taught us: a PG-13 doesn't guarantee the big bucks, nor does an R guarantee a failure, which makes it all the more surprising (and disappointing) that this group has decided to play it somewhat safe.

But enough about the film's shortcomings. There's still plenty to be entertained by here, particularly Will Smith. As one of the last true movie stars, he can pretty much open a film at #1 without even trying (with this, he's broken the record with eight top openings along with eight consecutive $100 million-plus grossers), but what sets him apart is that no matter how much he gets paid, as an audience member, you never feel he's just cashing a check. There's always something he'll bring to the role.

It's great to see Smith, always the noble hero, here playing against type as a real "asshole" (as characters frequently call him). His boozy tirades have caused millions in damage and earned his reputation as the aforementioned body part. Enter Ray (the ever-brilliant deadpan Jason Bateman), a PR guy with a conscience (now there's a shocker). Hancock saved his life from an oncoming train and now Ray wants repay him with some "image consulting." The reluctant Hancock caves after some meditating during one of those great Explosions in the Sky-scored montages that Berg is so great at.

Ray's plan includes jail time, anger management classes, and an ill-fitting leather uniform. As with most addicts, he's completely stubborn, but once Hancock starts to let down his guard, he becomes a better-loved hero, but he's just not quite as interesting. At this point, it's almost as if the writers knew they couldn't keep the film going like this, so they throw in an unexpected twist that completely convolutes the story up to this point. (I won't reveal it here, but let's just say it complicates things.)

After the twist is revealed, the movie completely switches tones to a dark tragedy and the transfer is pretty jarring. And it's like forcing a piece into a puzzle: it just doesn't fit. That being said, the film is still highly entertaining and the gusto Smith brings to the role sells the picture even when it stops selling itself.

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