Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman
Vince Gilligan, Vincent Ngo, John August, Akiva Goldsman, Peter Berg
I understand Will Smith.
Okay, maybe that's a stretch. I do, however, understand why Smith, one of the few remaining box-office sure bets, was attracted to his latest film, "Hancock."
Think about it. In "Hancock," Smith plays a disgruntled, antisocial, drunken and angry superhero whose rampaging heroics have led to millions in dollars of property damage, countless subpoenas and the nearly universal hatred of the Los Angeles residents he supposedly protects.
"Hancock" SOUNDS like a good idea. "Hancock" SOUNDS like the kind of film that will combine action, comedy and special effects into yet another of Smith's seemingly endless string of $100+ million blockbusters.
"Hancock" SOUNDS that way.
Unfortunately, after a semi-promising start, "Hancock" quickly dissolves into a disjointed, chaotic, convoluted and surprisingly unappealing flick in which Hancock's back story turns the film into an unfathomably silly exercise in superhero psycho-babble.
As tempting as it is to burst Smith's bubble, it's important to acknowledge a couple things.
First, Smith's streak of blockbusters includes the critically panned "Wild Wild West," which resulted in two Razzie awards for Smith, and such modest efforts as "Men in Black II" and "Bad Boys II."
In other words, I can trash "Hancock" all I want. Audiences love Will Smith, and they tend to forgive him the occasional crappy film as long as he's being, well, Will Smith.
Secondly, despite an overwhelming desire to finger point the blame at Smith for the debacle called "Hancock," the simple truth is that the blame for this film's failure lies squarely in the hands of director Peter Berg ("Friday Night Lights") and credited screen writers Vince Gilligan and Vy Vincent Ngo.
While only the cinematically comatose would have expected "Hancock" to be a critically acclaimed film, there's no denying that the combination of the twice Oscar-nominated Smith, the Oscar-winning Charlize Theron and popular good guy Jason Bateman should have added up to, at the bare minimum, a guilty pleasure, easy to watch summer blockbuster.
At a running time of slightly more than 90 minutes, "Hancock" seems like it just might work right up until the film's mid-point. Then, inexplicably, Berg and the production team downward spiral into a storyline that is illogical, at best, and utterly ludicrous, at worst.
The initial scenes, while far too overloaded with Berg's tendency for close-ups and unnervingly spastic camera work, are amusing in that they allow Smith to play against type as the destructive and boozing superhero who flies around in a drunken stupor while mouthing off to women and children. Whereas Spidey had his black suit, Hancock has his bottle of Granddad and unshaven stubble.
Silly? Sure. However, when Smith's not trying to win Oscars he's practically perfected the art of selling silliness at the box-office.
After Hancock saves the life of Ray Embry (Jason Bateman), a down on his luck but consistently altruistic PR man, the story even picks up steam as Ray's wife (Charlize Theron) doesn't quite trust Ray's newfound friend yet his son (Jae Head, "Friday Night Lights" TV series) becomes enamored of him after Hancock takes care of a bully (Daeg Faerch, "Halloween") for him.
Ray decides to fix Hancock's PR issues, Ray's wife either has the hots for Hancock or some other secret, and Hancock himself ends up in detox, anger management and voluntarily submitting to a jail sentence for the vast amounts of property damage he has caused.
If you're like me, you just got bored during that last paragraph.
What starts as a potentially humorous and satirical look at the world of superheroes quickly disintegrates into the most bogged down revelation of exposition I've seen in a film this year.
Suddenly, it becomes impossible to forgive the flat one-liners, dropped scenes, awkward special effects and wildly disjointed storyline. The film's last 30 minutes is, practically without exception, one extended yet stunningly uninvolving action sequence followed by a cop-out ending that feels tacked on following what was widely rumored in film circles to be near disastrous test screenings.
The saddest thing of all is that, despite everything, Smith actually does give it his all here. Defying nearly impossible odds, Smith never seems to be phoning in his performance even when the script writers seem to be phoning in the dialogue. While there's no denying that this is wildly disappointing following Smith's performance in last year's "I Am Legend," the disappointment lies more in knowing that Smith could have, with the help of a decent script and director, turned this film into something special.
Likewise, both Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron largely rise above the mediocrity of the material, though Theron isn't called upon to do much until the film's final third. Even then, she bears an uncanny and uncomfortable resemblance to Uma Thurman's superhero in "My Super Ex-Girlfriend."
While "Hancock" is likely to cement Smith's reputation as one of Hollywood's few stars still able to open a film on his own, it's an undeniable step backward for the consistently engaging actor.
This Independence Day weekend declare your freedom from bad cinema...skip "Hancock" and head on over to Pixar's majestically beautiful "Wall-E," a film that deserves your attention.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic