Tuesday, July 08, 2008


It would be hard to argue that Hancock doesn't give you your money's worth. In a tight 90 minutes, you get at least 4 entirely different movies. And you only have to pay for one ticket!

This was one of those scripts that floated around Hollywood forever, constantly changing hands. Most of the directors who had once flirted with the notion of directing the film, including Michael Mann and Jonathan Mostow, are now credited as producers. The task finally fell to Peter Berg, who does a pretty capable job, particularly in terms of the action and spectacle.

But a funny thing happened to Hancock on the way to the cineplex. It's hard to believe the original script was this kind of loopy, schizophrenic hybrid of ideas. This feels like the product of an endless stream of writers, each of them contributing one or two ideas that have been crudely stitched together into a movie. What we have here is quite possibly the very first romantic spiritual summer superhero comedy-drama ever made.

Things start out pretty normal, as a genial summer comedy starring Will Smith. He's well-cast as Hancock, a supernatural being in the mold of Superman (super-strong, impervious to bullets, able to fly), but with the drunk, feckless demeanor of Billy Bob Thornton's memorable Bad Santa. Sure, he saves innocents and thwarts crime, but he does so while drunk, and with a general disregard for property damage and basic decorum.

I don't think Will Smith is a bad actor, necessarily, but when he's working with earnest, dramatic material, you can sometimes catch him straining for credibility. The opening third or so of Hancock just lets the guy fall into his old comfortable rhythm. You sense he's having a good time playing the part, and it's fun to watch Will Smith have fun.

Hancock saves a well-meaning PR executive (Jason Bateman, basically still playing Michael Bluth...not that you hear me complaining...), who devises a crafty plan to turn the louse from a loathed public menace into a beloved superhero. These sequences (still very early in the film!), featuring Hancock's withering, half-assed attempts at saving the city, are silly, cartoonish and frequently hilarious. (The effects are so overblown and unrealistic, they develop a charm all their own. I was reminded, in some ways, of Stephen Chow's use of larger-than-life, "fake" effects in Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle.)

There's one particularly well-realized, exciting sequence in which Hancock foils a bank robbery that's quite possibly the best single scene that Berg has ever directed. Certainly more intense and impressive than anything in his dud from last year, The Kingdom.

Then we reach Act 2, the point when the movie must place some kind of complication or obstacle before its hero, blocking his or her path to success. And Hancock takes this concept to a completely unreasonable level. I mean, I know the hero is essentially invincible but man, these guys are not screwing around. I won't get into spoiler territory, but the entire second half of this movie just pulls you in fifteen different directions all at once until you have absolutely no footing on what the hell is going on or how you're meant to feel about it.

It's always a bad sign when people have to keep running into the frame to explain what the hell is going on throughout the conclusion of your action-comedy, for starters. And actually, by the end, this movie isn't even remotely funny. Like, if you laugh at anything towards the end of Hancock, you're kind of a sick bastard.

I'm all for genre-mashing experiments, but there has to be some kind of balance. When the beginning of a movie is as broad as Hancock, it's hard to force a viewer to settle in for something much more severe and even thoughtful, no matter how much care has been put into the actual narrative arc. There are many interesting ideas floating around in Hancock, but that's about all they're doing. This movie seriously needed to pick a direction and run with it rather than try to tackle so much.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Dean and Leah, this one's for you!

Had a fun evening at Los Feliz's The Tangiers. Way to go, Dean and Leah!