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July 5, 2008 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | July 5, 2008 |

The concept behind Hancock actually had potential, especially given this summer’s bevy of superhero blockbusters. An archetypal hero certainly has flaws (sans Superman), but few so deep as Hancock, a drunk, despondent louse who wakes up from a bottle to perform his superhero duties lazily and ineptly. He causes millions of dollars in collateral damage, stomping on cars, flying through signage, and smashing against concrete whenever he takes off or lands. Hancock has no problem saving the day as long as he can do it in the bluntest, most haphazard way possible. Fighting crime may just be a half-assed day job. In short, he’s an asshole and, endowed as he is with special powers and untouchable from human authority, not especially keen on being liked (imagine, if you will, a Super Pookie). The public hates him and city officials would just as soon he went away.

This premise, the inversion of the archetypal superman for the purposes of comedy and/or realism, isn’t a bad one. The first problem is Will Smith, an actor who has long ceased playing any character other than Will Smith, whose incredible confidence and egocentricity bless and curse his roles in equal measure, who forces his personal subtext into every film he stars in. Is he a compelling performer? Certainly, but Smith is totally unconvincing as either a drunk or a man who is not in love with himself. The character of Hancock would certainly suggest a man who, on some level, yearns to be hated, either due to profound unhappiness or as validation of his own low self-worth. Smith can’t suggest either, content to play the part as willful buffoon with a chip on his shoulder.

Hancock is really two films. The first half chronicles Hancock’s exploits, his bouts with the public and a PR agent’s (Jason Bateman), whose life he saved, attempts to rehabilitate his image as a “proper” superhero. Hancock agrees to serve a spell in prison for numerous petty violations, an act which Bateman thinks will improve his public image and endear his return to crime-fighting. Hancock goes along, either because he’s eager to end his despondency or because Bateman’s wife (Charlize Theron) has caught his eye. In this context, the unexceptional writing and deficiencies of Smith’s portrayal are unimportant; the film delivers serviceable bits of comedy and action with no pretense of depth.

The second, encompassing a plot twist that would make Shyamalan vomit in horror, is just plain awful. Terrible. And I mean…shit-balls retarded. If director Peter Berg and writers Vince Gilligan and Vincent Ngo started with a fun if flippant action-comedy, they end with a fucking farce, veering the story from character study into My Super Ex-Girlfriend and then something out of Piers Anthony. The plot becomes unwieldy, nonsensical, asinine and completely at odds with the tone and logic of the first hour, turning Hancock from pointless, enjoyable ride to sloppy incoherence in an effort to explain Hancock’s origins in the dumbest way possible. The film sputters and flops across the finish line like a dead fish.

A movie that is one part amusing and one part appalling should end up a rather average theatergoing experience, but the bald inconsistency resulting from the film’s nosedive in tone and storytelling result in a final product being a shade above horrible. I would rather Hancock had been a straightforward shit-fest than to dangle the carrot of thoughtful genre send-up in the audience’s face before removing it and loosing a tremendous fart. Berg and company had the chance to inject the summer of superheroes with its most comic iconoclast, and Smith at least had the theoretical panache to pull it off. For shame.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic and book editor for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR, and wastes his twenties in grad school(s).

Epic Fail

Hancock / Phillip Stephens

Film | July 5, 2008 |

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