Will Smith sheds his nice guy image to portray the alcoholic, mean-spirited Hancock.
I have to say, it's a refreshing change to see Will Smith hated.
It was beginning to seem like no matter what Will did, he was always "such a great guy." Sure, Smith's new superhero character, Hancock, comes around by the movie's end as one would expect, but the depth to which this hero sinks beforehand is occasionally startling and pretty great.
Hancock opens with a police chase on the L.A. freeways. The cops are pursuing a group of thugs that are riddling the police cruisers with automatic weapon fire. Meanwhile, Hancock is drunk on a bench. A kid tries to wake him up, but the soused superhero only shoves the boy away. Finally, the wobbly Hancock makes a half-hearted attempt to rectify the situation, ultimately causing more damage than the thugs ever could have and further demolishing his public image.
During another questionable rescue attempt, Hancock saves the life of do-gooder PR agent Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman). Despite the public outcry for Hancock's arrest, Embrey sees an opportunity to help out Hancock and his own stalled career in the process. He welcomes the liquor-scented hero into his home to meet his lovely wife Mary (Charlize Theron) and little boy (Jae Head), who is quite enamored with the prospect of dining with a real live superhero. With more than a little difficulty, Embrey talks Hancock into turning himself in to authorities for a brief prison stint as the first step towards reforming his ways and becoming the kind of beloved, respected superhero everyone wants Hancock to become.
Peter Berg's transition from actor to blockbuster Hollywood director has been impressive. While Berg was always been a reliable actor, he has found his true calling directing big-ticket movies starring Hollywood A-listers like Billy Bob Thornton, The Rock and now Will Smith. Hancock is Berg's largest directorial undertaking thus far and he demonstrates an exceptional command of the material. Hancock is funny and edgy -- nearly straying into R-rated territory in the early going -- and yet still manages to stick to a conventional enough storyline for traditional blockbuster audiences to come along for the ride. For one, Berg resists the temptation to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the movie -- this one is just over an hour and a half rather than the recent two hour-plus wannabe epics of the summer season. There are even some very unexpected surprises (one is a big reveal that I commend Sony for not letting out of the bag in their marketing campaign) to keep audiences on their toes. Hancock is also a near-perfect blending of laughs, action and brisk, popcorn movie storytelling.
Credit Will Smith with the guts to send up his great guy persona and play a genuinely flawed character, even if he does happen to be one with super powers. Hancock is the kind of flawed, superhero send-up tale Mystery Men was supposed to be and Smith is the perfect guy to pull it off. Audiences will even siding with Smith the jerk and there aren't too many actors that can pull that off so effortlessly. Will Smith is Hollywood's biggest star with good reason. Put him in your movie and it turns to gold.
Arrested Development has resuscitated the career of Jason Bateman and thank God for that. The Ray Embrey character could have easily come off as smarmy, but Bateman infuses him with intelligence and humor. He has chemistry with anyone who can step up to his level of sardonic wit. Luckily, Smith and Theron are no slouches for the task.
Hancock is just good, clean, summer popcorn fun. It's a little gritty, a little over-the-top and more than a little silly. The CG is overdone here and there and doesn't always look top-notch, but most should be willing to overlook that in exchange for the next laugh. Smith clearly has fun sending up his image and the rest of the cast plays off him beautifully. The only thing missing is a worthy villain, but maybe that will come in Hancock 2. If you set your expectations to the right level (and if you buy a ticket to a movie about a drunk superhero, what are you really expecting anyway?) you should have a lot of fun at Hancock.