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Awesome: 14.61%
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7 reviews, 47 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Don't Forget His Sidekick, The Fantastic Fifth"
2 stars

By the time that you are reading these words, 2008 will be half-over and the general consensus seems to be that it has not exactly been a banner year from a cinematic perspective. Oh sure, there have been some good-to-great movies that have popped up from time to time to reassure us that all is not lost, but outside of the occasional studio anomaly like “Iron Man,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and last week’s one-two punch of “WALL*E” and “Wanted“ and smaller and more modestly distributed specialty items such as “Snow Angels,” “Diary of the Dead,” “Shine a Light,” “My Blueberry Nights” and “My Winnipeg,” moviegoers have been inundated with a number of complete artistic abdications that is so overwhelming that such seemingly indefensible craptaculars as “Prom Night,” “Drillbit Taylor” and “Made of Honor” actually aren’t the worst of the bunch by a long shot. The one good thing about this seemingly never-ending parade of celluloid flotsam is that, for the most part, they at least had the courtesy to announce their awfulness in such a direct and up-front manner that unless you were professionally obligated to sit through them or an eternal optimist, you could easily figure out that they were essentially useless and skip over them without even a moment’s hesitation that you might be missing out on something worth seeing. The problem with “Hancock,” on the other hand, is that it is a bad movie that has a lot of seemingly surefire elements working in its favor--a game cast, a director who has done some good and interesting things in the past and who has been on the cusp of a major career breakthrough for a while now and an enormously intriguing premise--and it always seems like it is on the verge of correcting its problems and transforming itself into the genre-busting classic that it is clearly trying to be. And yet, it never quite finds its footing and just at the point when it is about to get really interesting, it devolves into a couple of reels of noisy and pointless action beats that are so arbitrary that it feels as if they were trucked in wholesale from a different and far less ambitious movie.

Will Smith stars as John Hancock, a genuine, bona-fide superhero with amazing powers (he can fly through the air, has super-strength and is impervious to implements ranging from syringes to bullets to speeding locomotives) and a mysterious past who fights crime on the streets of Los Angeles. Unlike most superheroes, however, Hancock is a self-loathing drunk whose surly attitude and overly destructive manner of saving the day has earned him the scorn and enmity of the very people that he is trying to help, many of whom wish that he would just go away and leave them alone. It gets so bad, in fact, that when Hancock rescues a man who is trapped in his car from being hit by a train, the passersby spend more time complaining about the wreckage he caused (granted, he could have simply lifted the car up into the air instead of flipping it over onto other cars while simultaneously derailing the train) instead of thanking him for saving the guy’s life. One person who notices this is the rescuee himself, Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), an idealistic public relations executive (don’t laugh) who dreams of being able to help change the world in order to make it a better place. Grateful for the rescue, Ray vows to repay Hancock by helping him to restore his public image--not the easiest thing to do when YouTube is chock-full of videos featuring him being surly to little children and his fairly unorthodox method of rescuing a beached whale.

Needless to say, Hancock doesn’t care at all about his image but agrees to go along with Ray’s plan, though it appears that he is less interested in personal rehabilitation than he is in Ray’s wife, Mary (Charlize Theron). The big plan, as it turns out, is for Hancock to make a public apology for his bad behavior and to voluntarily go to prison on one of the numerous criminal charges that have been filed against him in the past resulting from his antics--the theory is that after a few days away in prison, the people of Los Angeles will realize how much they miss and need him when the crime rate begins to spike again and they will welcome him with open arms. Although his time in the slammer gets off to a rough start--after being confronted with a prison yard filled with felons that he personally nabbed, he reclaims his authority by performing a seeming anatomical impossibility on a couple of them--he finally begins to learn the error of his ways and even takes part in anger-management classes. On the outside, everything goes according to plan and after Hancock is released from prison in time to foil a violent bank robbery attempt in a courteous and relatively non-destructive manner, he becomes the toast of the city. At this point, however, I have to stop recounting the plot because there are a couple of wholly unexpected development that I cannot even hint at here without ruining things.

The notion of a superhero whose surly attitude and destructive tendencies have made him a pariah with the very people he has sworn to protect is admittedly not quite as original as the creators of “Hancock” would have you believe--the idea has been previously explored in works ranging from the very first “Underdog” episode to such box-office hits as “The Incredibles” and “Superman III” to the 1983 cult oddity “The Return of Captain Invincible” (a spoof in which alcoholic former superhero Alan Arkin is called back into service two decades after being labeled a Communist sympathizer in order to defeat megalomaniacal villain Christopher Lee--oh, did I mention that the film was also a musical?) with varying degrees of success. Nevertheless, it is still an intriguing premise for a film, one that is especially timely now that flawed superheroes like Iron Man and Batman are all the rage on the big screen these days, but “Hancock” doesn’t seem to have any idea of what to do with it. It has some fun early on with the idea of Hancock as a careless colossus who causes more destruction than the bad guys he is trying to stop but after a few minutes of that (nearly all of which seems to have made it into the coming attractions previews), it gives up on it for the notion of watching Hancock trying to change his ways under Ray’s tutelage, even to the point of actually wearing an official superhero uniform instead of the clothes that he slept in the night before, before making his triumphant return to a now-adoring public. This is also a pretty good idea to pursue but just when it seems as if it is about to really start cooking, it shifts gears again by suddenly dropping everything for that aforementioned plot development that shall not be revealed here. Again, what screenwriters Vincent Ngo & Vince Gilligan have come up with is an awfully promising notion that seems prepared to transform what had been just a superhero goof into something darker and deeper, but the film has barely finished setting it up before completely abandoning it for an utterly generic third-act confrontation between Hancock and a villain whose presence has been so sketchily established that it feels as if the entire finale was a last-minute reshoot designed to replace an original ending that test audiences rejected even though it would have made far more sense in the context of the story.

I suppose that “Hancock” could have survived all of these narrative shifts if it had somehow managed to find a consistent tone throughout but in this regard, the film is equally scattershot. The first third of the movie goes for broad, effects-heavy comedy beats (most of the big moments in the trailers and commercials come from this section), the second third takes a more darkly satirical approach that relies less on over-the-top action and ever delves into some outright dramatic territory and the final act pretty much abandons any humor whatsoever for a utterly ordinary climax in which all of the explosions, gunshots and fisticuffs are presented without even the slightest hint of irony, as if the film is suddenly trying to wrench itself into the very kind of enterprise that it found itself skewering in the opening scenes. When a film deliberately decides to shift tones, the results can be interesting but that is not the case here--it feels more like director Peter Berg never quite figured out what the tone should be and instead decided to try several of them in the hopes that something might stick. Even the visual approach to the material seems hopelessly askew without being interesting--Berg has shot the film utilizing the kind of rough-and-tumble style that one might expect to find in something from a filmmaker like Michael Mann. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Mann was a co-producer of this film and even makes a cameo appearance.) The problem is that while this particular approach can be enormously effective when used in a crime drama along the lines of “Heat” or “Miami Vice,” it doesn’t work at all when deployed in the service of either a comedy or the kind of fantasy-based action that “Hancock” deals in--the style is so oppressive that it alone kills a number of jokes and it never lets us get a decent look at the scenes of spectacle. (Speaking of tone, parents should probably know that while “Hancock” is being pushed as another family-friendly Will Smith epic, the noise and violence might be too much for younger and more impressionable viewers and the relentless amount of foul language on display certainly is--let me just say that when you see people saying the word “jerk” in the commercials, the actual film has them uttering a certain seven-letter expletive that I believe that you still cannot say on TV.)

While I have no specific knowledge of the behind-the-scenes history of “Hancock,” other than it is a script that has been floating around the industry for at least a decade or so, I think that I have a pretty good idea of how a film with such a promising premise could have turned out to be such a mess. My guess is that the original screenplay was a good deal darker and more satirical in tone while the action-oriented elements were most likely kept to a minimum. In other words, it was probably the kind of script that people in the industry privately loved and admired even as they realized that it would probably never get made in its present form. Somehow, it managed to slip through the cracks until it managed to attract the likes of Will Smith, who is pretty much the closest thing to a sure bet in Hollywood today, and the people at Sony eagerly agreed to make it on the theory that they were signing up for the latest Smith blockbuster. This euphoria probably lasted right until the moment when the film was finally completed and screened and the studio suits realized to their horror that this was not the kind of audience-friendly tent pole blockbuster that they assumed they were getting (in honor of the reteaming of Michael Bluth and his one-time girlfriend, the lovely Rita , I’d like to think that as the lights went up, each one said to themselves “I think I’ve made a huge mistake”) and, in a panic, they ordered all sorts of last-minute rewrites, re-shoots and re-edits in a desperate effort to somehow make it more palatable to mass audiences by transforming it into something that it was never designed to be. This might explain the scattershot nature of both the story and the tone. This might explain why the film comes in at a surprisingly short 92 minutes and why it feels as though large chunks of the narrative are missing. It certainly might explain why Charlize Theron would sign on for a role that, outside of a couple of brief moments, gives her even less to do as an actress than she had in “Aeon Flux.”

Because it is a film that is trying to skewer audience expectations for a wildly expensive big-screen extravaganza (even as it tries to market itself as just such a thing in order to attract viewers) by offering them a self-conscious spoof and because it features an enormously popular actor trying to subvert his on-screen persona by doing something more off-beat than his typical output, I suspect that many of the negative reviews for “Hancock” will cite illusions to two other films that tried to do just that and were widely reviled by critics and audiences for their efforts--the Bruce Willis vehicle “Hudson Hawk” and the infamous Arnold Schwarzenegger epic “Last Action Hero.” Having seen both of those films as well as “Hancock,” I can confidently say that such comparisons are wildly unfair to “Hudson Hawk” and “Last Boy Scout”--whatever their flaws (and I actually happen to like both of them a lot), they at least found a consistent tone for the material that they were dealing with and had the courage of their convictions to stick with their respective premises throughout. “Hancock,” on the other hand, never finds the right tone and it has clearly been so compromised at some point during its production process that by the time it comes to its abrupt end, most viewers will find themselves torn between feeling annoyance that it hasn’t added up to anything and relief that it is finally over. It is a shame, because the ingredients were there and there are some moments when it looks as though it is somehow going to work but then, much like its hero, it comes crashing back to earth and leaves nothing behind besides a giant mess.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17095&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/01/08 16:35:57
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User Comments

3/24/18 morris campbell pretty good imho 4 stars
6/02/12 Phineas Hollywood using the super hero genre to promote anti-White miscegenation 1 stars
2/26/11 Monday Morning Hey Eric C., for such a bad movie you sure wasted a lot of your life criticizing it. 3 stars
5/22/10 gc An authentic, original super hero movie, needed a better villan though 4 stars
10/25/09 Crazy27 It's getting louder with each and every smidgen of quantitative easing, bailout, and fiscal 2 stars
10/25/09 Kelvin81 We are happy to resend any missing acknowledgement file when requested to do so. , <a hre 3 stars
10/25/09 Pol64 A paradox of the current media moment is that, while journalism jobs are disappearing, j-sc 5 stars
10/24/09 Merlin73 Now that marriage is briefly legal in California, people have been asking me and Tim if we 5 stars
10/23/09 Boy15 Take breaks to talk to workmates or friends. , 2 stars
10/22/09 Gangster47 I will be planting my own on that lot. , 3 stars
7/14/09 scotty i thought it was brilliant 5 stars
6/22/09 Micigan Cornut The worst movie ever made. 1 stars
5/27/09 mr.mike Credit for the different approach but nearly derails halfway through. 3 stars
5/03/09 Heap Agreed with others that first-half is semi-interesting but much dross in the 2nd half 2 stars
12/20/08 Tony Breaks from superhero tradition and earns laughs from a great cast. 5 stars
12/05/08 Luisa Very entertaining, funny. Cool superhero story, different from the others, in a good way. 4 stars
11/27/08 Yvette My son bought it and I watched it. I thought it was kinda good. I would watch it again. 5 stars
11/22/08 Jon G Very Good until the twist, which was extremely gimmicky 4 stars
11/20/08 Shaun Wallner Laughed my ass off! 5 stars
9/27/08 Samantha Pruitt cool idea, weird twist, Will Smith is great! 3 stars
8/27/08 damalc didn't expect to like it. creators didn't treat it like a kids' film. 4 stars
7/19/08 Jayson A July 4 Will Smith flick I finally loved. 4 stars
7/17/08 David Gregg Finally! A good review! I'm Glad someone appreciated the movie for it's unpredictability. 4 stars
7/14/08 mike I enjoyed this movie and had some really funny parts. 4 stars
7/14/08 Karen Loved this movie! Great special effects! 5 stars
7/13/08 John Hernholm I hate to admitt it but i really enjoyed this movie. I know, it suprised me too... 4 stars
7/13/08 George Barksdale A Superman in civilian clothes, blah 2 stars
7/13/08 anyanwu Delightful & surprising popcorn superhero movie with a bit of maturity and transformation 4 stars
7/12/08 Koitus I was pleasantly surprised; 1st time I think I disagree with B-Slap's reviewers' consensus. 4 stars
7/12/08 Darkstar It's not Ironman, but it's not fantastic 4 either. ok action movie. 3 stars
7/12/08 Reini Urban The real surprise here is Charlize Theron. Excellent acting of all. 3 stars
7/12/08 grafdog I agree with this reviewer its risk pay off and it was ACME novelty library'esque in parts. 4 stars
7/10/08 roscoe19998 YOU have to be kidding me!!!! No real villain and the plot (or lack thereof) is retarded 2 stars
7/08/08 Uncle Salty Horse Shit 1 stars
7/07/08 Invader Zim The film is a good look at what becomes of a hero who's given up on life. Worth while. 4 stars
7/07/08 mary m This was a different kind of superhero movie. I liked it' 4 stars
7/07/08 John Don't expect Shakespeare and you'll get a pretty fun movie out of it. 4 stars
7/07/08 Ken If by "misrepresented" it, you mean it didn't give away half of the plot twists, then yes. 4 stars
7/07/08 steve I thought it was refreshing take on the superhero genre. Fun though not brilliant 4 stars
7/07/08 BNorm It's too bad another corny "true love" plot line ruined an otherwise decent film 3 stars
7/06/08 Crispin Meh. Could have been much better. The trailer misrepresented it. 3 stars
7/05/08 Quigley Too confused and sloppily assembled. Smith is great as always but don't even bother with it 3 stars
7/05/08 Jiz This is what you'd get if you took 3 half-finished superhero movie scripts and stapled them 2 stars
7/04/08 Anthony Feor Sure it is visually astound and has good action, but I am tired of one dimentional actors. 3 stars
7/02/08 Keystra Williams Piece of shit 1 stars
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  02-Jul-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 25-Nov-2008


  DVD: 25-Nov-2008

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Peter Berg

Written by
  Vincent Ngo
  Vince Gilligan

  Will Smith
  Charlize Theron
  Jason Bateman
  Eddie Marsan

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