Monday, July 7, 2008


The word "okay" was invented so that mankind would one day have a concise way to describe Hancock. One could make a legitimate case for "mediocre." "Good" is definitely too forgiving.

Don't get me wrong, I WANTED to love Hancock, for three reasons: 1) I really want to see director Peter Berg have a long, successful career. The Rundown and Friday Night Lights were very good, but more importantly he developed the NBC Friday Night Lights series which I truly love the holy shit out of. 2) Like any Arrested Development fanboy I love Jason Bateman. And 3) I'm always ready to support any non-sequel, non-franchise, non-book / comic adaptation action movie, because there are so few original action flicks written directly for the screen. The only three I saw all of last year were Grindhouse, Hot Fuzz, and Shoot 'Em Up. It's a rare thing these days, and I always hope I can endorse a new one when it comes along.

Starting positive, I have nothing bad to say about the actors. It's pretty much a three-person show with no other developed characters (although there were a couple Friday Night Lights series cameos I appreciated); Will Smith is of course Hancock and although he may be the poster boy for mediocre summer action (I personally don't feel he's ever topped Men In Black) he never seems less than 100% committed to entertaining the audience. He has energy and screen presence. Jason Bateman is largely in the same persona we usually see him in but is always funny (in the constraints he's given, at least, in this case) and a personal favorite of mine. Charlize Theron's performance is nothing special, but hey, she's hot, and her and Jason Bateman together make this a minor Arrested Development reunion, so it gets points for that.

But the script for this movie is INSANELY schizophrenic. It's apparently an ancient script that's been floating around Hollywood for a decade, cycling through dozens of rewriters and dozens of drafts, and it shows - the thing is a goddamn Frankenstein, wildly and disjointedly cobbling together elements of action, comedy, drama, and romance into something of a genre soup. Don't get me wrong, there have been movies that have successfully combined those four (Spider-Man 2 leaps to mind), but this just feels overstretched for a 92 minute movie. The ads chose to focus mostly on comedy with an action backdrop, but don't be deceived, these ads are rather misrepresentative and show pretty much every non-profane joke in the entire movie. Instead of each genre feeling well-implemeneted, Peter Berg tries a mild hand at each, not outright failing at any, but just doing a staggeringly "okay" job at each.

The action scenes have a few clever beats and find a few neat ways to challenge a man with Superman-level powers. For example, Hancock goes up against a bank robber with a dead man's switch and hostages strapped with explosives, and it's actually exciting for a minute or two. But by and large the action is standard stuff you've literally seen hundreds of times that will keep your attention but won't linger in your memory. The comedy is supported much more by Smith and Bateman than the script itself; the biggest running joke in the movie is people calling Hancock "asshole." Nothing more than that, just asshole. This happens well over a dozen times, maybe two dozen, and I guess it works for some people because some audience members at my screening laughed every damn time, but I found it pretty derivative. And the drama and romance dips into melodrama with a lot of excessively dramatic, swelling music and slow motion and had me a little more impatient than moved.

I could continue, explaining that the story fails to impress, there is a twist partway through that feels like it's supposed to be the twist of year but just kind of had me nod and go "hmm," and the villains are probably the most underdeveloped (and I truly mean that, as in five or six lines in the movie), bland, and forgettable in an action flick in the last decade, but I reckon you get the point. Hancock is alright. I wasn't bored; there were a couple neat superpower bits, and Will Smith and Jason Bateman have good interplay. But I was really far from impressed either. Netflix it at the most.

2 Stars out of 5

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