Stuck in the Cineplex with Hancock

In his 10 rules of screenwriting, Billy Wilder said “If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.” Somehow that reminded me of Hancock, because it has several plot shifts that made me feel trapped and aching to leave the theatre. Like throwing a football into the later innings of a baseball game, the screenwriters Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan kept shifting into ever more unlikely scenarios as the movie goes along, causing Will Smith’s star power to dissipate quickly.

The initial premise of the film has its charm. A slacker, alcoholic superhero saves people from villains and trains, but he’s too lazy and drunk to do much without causing massive collateral damage to Los Angeles. I liked Hancock when he was asleep on a park bench, sublimely indifferent to the movie he’s in, but a boy rouses him into flying off to nab several goons who are randomly spraying machine gunfire from their white SUV on the highway (shades of O.J. Simpson?). Hancock tries to persuade them to pull over as he deflects bullets, but he gets annoyed when their gunfire breaks his shades. So he picks up the SUV angrily and dangles it over the freeway until he throws it over the peak of a skyscraper.

As a useless punk, Hancock makes for a refreshingly ambivalent role for Will Smith after the heroics of I Am Legend, but as a narrative, “Hancock” sells out many of its premises. Hancock saves the life of a PR man Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman, fresh from Juno), who, in turn persuades Hancock to reform his ways, first by going to jail for all of the damage he has caused. There, Hancock waits for the call, like Batman, from the LA police commissioner to save LA from criminals. While in prison, Hancock undergoes group therapy with a bunch of convicts, and still I wondered--after the psychobabble of Get Smart and The Love Guru--does Hollywood have a fixation on therapy? It seems curious that in the midst of action films, everything stops so the hero must look inward to heal—and since Hancock has no real back story due to amnesia, the film loses all momentum as he waits in prison.

Given film’s ramshackle look, awkward handheld shots, and jerky editing, all of the filmmakers seem infected with the same slacker spirit as its hero. I couldn’t believe that Michael Mann co-produced Hancock, since it has none of his signature visual flair, nor does Hancock much resemble The Kingdom, which shares the same director, Peter Berg. Berg did an excellent job playing the dip mercilessly exploited by Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction. I’m still waiting for one of his directed films to attain that movie’s high level of craft.

It also took me awhile to realize, with dismay, that Charlize Theron plays Embrey’s wife Mary. When she starts to dominate the storyline for no apparent reason, and the cheap CGI effects of superhero stunts blur the screen to grey murk, I found myself checking my watch at five minute intervals. A bleak feeling of claustrophobia set in. Two guys were bothering me by talking in the nearly empty theater, but by the last half hour (by my watch), I wished they would speak louder to drown out the film.


Castle of Stink said…
That's the worst review I've read so far of the movie, and every one of them have been bad. You did a great job, though, of explaining why the movie sucked without using spoilers! My favorite review of yours so far...
Thanks. I'm glad some good came out of the pain of enduring "Hancock."
George Kaplan said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
George Kaplan said…
Makes want to see the movie all the more! It leaves a convincing argument for not enduring Hancock. This ranks up there as one of your best reviews, but I can't tell if you like the movie or not (he said sarcastically).
delly said…
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