July 10, 2008

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Hancock†(PG-13)
Will Smith has just enough fun as a bad boy superhero to fly us smoothly over the rough edges in Hancock.

When evil strikes, the super-strength, super-speed, power-of-flight-having Hancock (Will Smith) is there. He might be passed out on a park bench in a liquor-induced stupor and, upon awaking, he might cuss and slap the behind of a passing female pedestrian, but heís there, ready to help ó though not always terribly attentive to all the effects of his help, such as the busted-up highway signs and destruction of police vehicles that result from his capture of a car full of hoodlums involved in a high-speed chase. Or the traffic jam and train-car pile-up he creates when he stops a freight train from hitting a car trapped in a railroad crossing. When his heroics are met with jeers, Hancock is perfectly happy to lob a few jeers right back.

Luckily for him, the man in the car whom Hancock saves from becoming track-kill knows a little something about good impressions. Meet Ray (Jason Bateman). Heís a PR guy with a heart of gold who spends his days trying to encourage corporate beneficence such as getting drug companies to give away expensive prescriptions to needy people. In appreciation for Hancockís saving of his life, Ray invites him over to dinner ó to the delight of his son and the dismay of his suspicious wife Mary (Charlize Theron) ó and offers to do a little image repair for Hancock. You need to get people to like you, Ray says, less swearing, more smiling and try to be a little less destructive when you land and take off.

Hancock is at its best when the formerly crude and grouchy Hancock is trying to be polite ó like the stiff ďgood jobĒs that Hancock doles out to police officers at the scene of a high-stakes robbery. As with all good movie makeovers, the heroification of Hancock is full of nice, comedy-rich moments when the old misanthrope rubs against the suit of the new all-American.

This makes for about 45 minutes, maybe even a bit more, of a really fun movie. Then, as is not too unusual with this kind of movie, some attempt is made to interject emotional heft and pathos and a Hancock backstory. And, as also is not too unusual with this kind of movie, this part works less well. Itís like suddenly finding big chunks of ice in a previously silky smooth ice cream sundae. The flavors are still there but the experience isnít quite as satisfying. I liked more of this movie than I didnít, and the parts that drag, the parts that unnecessarily want us to connect with Hancock on an emotional level, usually have just enough fun and humor left in and around them that you donít completely forget what a good time you had been having. The movieís weirdly uneven second half might have crumbled without the backbone of entertainment value provided by Smith.

And, of course, Will Smith is Hancockís saving grace. Heís just fun to watch. Smiling hero a la Independence Day; grouchy troublemaker here ó heís an appealing actor. Like George Clooney, heís someone who your eyes go to when heís on the screen and not just because heís handsome. Paired with the comic skills of Jason Bateman, Smith here does a good job, blending humor and earnest superness, even in spite of the plotís rough patches. Even the negative number that is Charlize Theronís performance canít bring the energy Smith and Bateman create down to zero.

Hancock is far from a perfect action movie but, for an imperfect one, itís surprisingly fun. B-

Rated PG-13 for some sequences of sci-fi action and violence and language. Directed by Peter Berg and written by Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan, Hancock is an hour and 32 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Sony.