Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A super-senseless superhero movie

SUMMARY: Will Smith stars as a foul-tempered, drunken superhero in "Hancock," an action movie whose blockbuster scale is matched by its failure to make even a little bit of sense. Smith, who has made his name synonymous with big-budget, big-ticket entertainment, might well benefit from giving up the burden of having to carry tent-pole movies on his back. A career shift might lead him to more interesting acting choices -- and not just the occasional digression we saw with "The Pursuit of Happyness." Smith is a talented, likable presence and a true movie star, and, yes, I'd like to see him use his stardom for something more than anchoring the latest Hollywood money machine.

This time out, Smith plays John Hancock, a Los Angeles drunk who happens to have superpowers. Hancock often saves the day, but not without alienating those whose lives he reluctantly protects. A Hancock rescue mission is likely to result in as much as $9 million in damages, causing city officials to wish he'd ply his trade elsewhere. When this guy plunges out of the sky, he becomes a human wrecking ball. Tarmac flies.

Early on, Hancock rescues a PR man whose car gets stuck at a railroad crossing. Realizing that Hancock has an image problem, a grateful Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) offers professional help. He wants Hancock to smile more and make sure to thank the cops for whom he previously has shown only contempt. For reasons that eventually become clear, Hancock makes a combustible connection with Embrey's wife (Charlize Theron).

For a while it appears as if the movie is going to be a scattershot series of episodes built around jokes that arise when Hancock (who at one point agrees to a rehabilitative jail sentence) tries to make the transition from renegade to socially acceptable superhero. He even dons a black leather uniform that Embry has designed for him.

So far, so good.

But "Hancock" is very much like a poker game in which one of the players goes all-in too early. A major plot twist pushes the movie into realms where script logic is vanquished. It's always a bad sign when the characters explain the movie's mysteries rather than allowing them to be revealed during the action.

To make matters worse, scenes of Hancock taking flight don't look real, and director Peter Berg's reliance on woozy close-ups proves disorienting. It's as if the actors are being photographed from a rowboat on a choppy lake.

Smith and Theron have a few good comic moments together; Bateman is stuck playing second fiddle. Overall, though, Smith -- who must give the movie its center -- does a one-note dance that relies too heavily on the fact that he is unshaven, unkempt and unrepentant.

The longer it goes on, the more "Hancock" seems to put its worst foot forward. It abandons the comedy that results from Hancock's ragtag dissolution and tires for something more. Dissatisfied with amusing variations on a one-joke theme, the movie turns into one of summer's biggest messes.

The G-rated "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" should hit the spot with its target audience: girls between seven and 12. Derived from a series of dolls and books, the movie centers on Kit (Abigail Breslin), a Cincinnati girl who wants to be a newspaper reporter. The time: The Depression. Amazingly, the movie doesn't soft-pedal the difficulties of economic deprivation. Director Patricia Rozema can't always keep plot seams from showing, but she manages to entertain while also letting kids know about some of the difficulties of living through hard times: Kit's father (Chris O'Donnell) leaves home in search of work, and Mom (Julia Ormond) is forced to take in borders. OK, we're not talking "Grapes of Wrath" here, but "Kit Kittredge" is better and less condescending than you'd expect.

Having said that, I'd caution you not to be entirely swept away by some of the movie's more positive reviews. This is not "Grapes of Wrath" for kids; it's a decent movie inspired by a doll.


Anonymous said...

Hancock looks like interesting spin on the latest superhero movie craze... at least Will Smith tends to be pretty funny

Robert Denerstein said...

Agreed. It is an interesting spin on a superhero. But I don't think the filmmakers really knew what to do with this new kind of superhero. Don't believe me. Check out the second half of the movie.

Cilicious said...

I actually liked Hancock far more than I thought I would--including the second half. But there certainly was room for improvement. Often movies feel too long and under-edited--not this one. I would have preferred fewer car crashes and more warmth. Still, I loved Smith's sullen, wounded persona. It would have been interesting to see a Hancock with a lower budget, a winter release, and an approach *not* aimed at the most common denominator.