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July 11, 2008

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Movie Review – Hancock (2008)

by HELEN GEIB

Hancock has a great premise. It’s clever and original and promised to be a fine vehicle for Will Smith. The film develops the premise nicely too, but it never closes the deal. Somewhere in the middle Hancock abandons its story and turns into a different and altogether less interesting movie. While both parts purport to be about the same characters and to be set in the same world, there is little real connection between them.

Smith stars as John Hancock, a superhero with a difference. The difference being that he’s a scruffy, homeless, alcoholic misanthrope. He’s also sloppy in his work and quick to anger. His years of crime fighting have cost the city of Los Angeles uncounted millions in damage to public and private property. The collateral damage has combined with his obnoxious personality to make him roundly disliked by practically everybody.

Where some see a liability, others see opportunity. Ray (Jason Bateman) is an idealistic public relations consultant determined to remake Hancock’s image. They met when Hancock saved Ray from being hit by a train, did it in such a way that he caused huge and hugely unnecessary property damage, and was subsequently booed and heckled by everybody except for Ray. Ray is motivated partly by gratitude and partly by disinterested concern for a hero who consistently receives the opposite of a hero’s reception.

Hancock is impervious to– well, everything except insults. Bullets, knives, trains, you name it, it bounces off him. Ray has his own brand of imperviousness. He’s never discouraged in the pursuit of making the world a better place, not even by seemingly insurmountable odds. Perhaps even more crucial for the success of his professional and personal relationship with the irritable and cynical Hancock, Ray is a man of unflappable good humor.

Hancock and Ray are a delightful comedy duo. The characters are funny on their own terms and even funnier as a study in contrasts. Smith and Bateman play their characters well and play off each other well. The first part of Hancock is amusing and likable as it sets the stage, introduces the characters, and puts Ray’s plan for Hancock’s image makeover into motion. That movie works.

The second movie is a weighty drama about the origin of Hancock’s superhero power and his mysterious history with Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron). There are a number of reasons why it doesn’t work. There is a jarring disconnect with the first movie in substance and style. The friendship story is abandoned and Ray effectively disappears from the movie. In fact, pretty much all of the storylines the film had been at such pains to establish are summarily abandoned. The filmmaking also turns oppressively heavy handed as it tells the audience what it should feel in the succession of “big” emotional scenes. Peter Berg’s direction is a notable culprit.

However, probably the biggest reason the second movie is an unworthy follow-up to the first is that it trades originality and freshness for predictability and familiarity. It’s too much like Superman, too much like Highlander. It’s just so ordinary and boring. I liked that quirky, fun, unusual movie I had been watching and I wanted it back.

1 1/2 stars


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jul 12 2008

    I have heard about the “twist,” and it sounds terrible. While I’m willing to accept that Hancock has some decent moments, I’ve been predicting from the first trailer that it would be bad…vindication at last.

    And once again, we have the hero with the over-the-top last name and the plain first name. John Shaft. John Rambo. John Hancock. Very clever, Hollywood! No, wait, it’s not.

  2. Helen
    Jul 12 2008

    In the film’s defense, the hero’s name is an acknowledged borrowing from “your John Hancock here, please.” If they hadn’t thought of that it would have been John something-else, though. That Theron’s character is named Mary is no accident.

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