Will Smith and a great cast are unfortunately not enough to make Hancock anything more than a soaring disappointment in this summer's superhero movie sweepstakes.
Hancock must have sounded great--at least on paper. Hancock (Smith) is the anti-superhero, a crime fighter with a bad attitude in contemporary Los Angeles who drinks way too much, dresses like skid row and doesn't give a hoot what anyone thinks about him. Of course, since he can fly like Superman, stop a speeding train with his fist and take care of just about any badass gang member with his little finger, he is invaluable to the police. But the public hates him--so into his life comes PR wizard Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), who is determined to remake Hancock into the image of a hero the city can embrace, including getting a spandex outfit. When Hancock comes over to Embrey's house, his wife Mary (Charlize Theron) gets an immediate bad vibe about the guy. There's good reason and therein lies the film's big twist, which comes at the half-way point of the very tight 92-minute running time. To say much else about where the plot goes would put us in spoiler hell and for a movie so reliant on the sudden turn it takes you'll just have to figure it out yourself.
They call the 4th of July "Big Willie Weekend" because Smith has been responsible for opening so many blockbusters during this time frame, including Independence Day, Bad Boys, Men In Black, among others. The movie-going public obviously loves him (so do we) and he's coming off two strong recent performances in I Am Legend and The Pursuit of Happyness. On the surface, the role of Hancock--a complicated, reluctant superhero who is all 'tude-- fits right in with the rest of the resume, but despite the star's best efforts Hancock comes off a little too contrived and affected. Will's charisma is going to have to work overtime for eager audiences to completely buy this character. An abrupt tonal shift halfway through presents a strong challenge to Theron, who suddenly isn't who she appears to be at first. Credit must go to this fine actress for making the awkward transition Mary Embrey seamless. And thank God for Jason Bateman, whose innate charm and ability to play comedy makes Ray, a guy in a REAL quandary--the most likeable of all the main stars as he is caught in a Twilight Zone of superhero antics.
Actor-turned-director Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Friday Night Lights) is all flash and style with Hancock. He moves his shaky camera right up into the stars faces and back again, awkwardly shifting the tone from comedy to maudlin drama and trying to ramp up a story that just doesn't make a whole lot of narrative sense. Films about comic-book superheroes are a dime a dozen in the summer months, and audiences have shown they can easily suspend disbelief if they have a protagonist to root for. Berg's failure here is to present Will Smith in such a way that we don't care. The movie is full of botched opportunities, with the whole arc collapsing as the thin screenplay recklessly takes off in unexpected directions--including a ridiculous scene in which Hancock goes to prison (for no good reason) that gives new meaning to the term "butting heads." Not only do sequences like this seriously challenge the viability of the film's PG-13 rating, they test our patience for all its worth. Even though there are some nice special effects and its faults do not lie in our stars (we still love you, Will), Hancock does not set off the kind of fireworks you may have been expecting this Big Willie Weekend.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.