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Friday, June 27, 2008

Hancock (***)


June 27, 2008
"Good job!"

We know that Hancock is about a drunk, asshole superhero, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover a melding of two of my favorite shows of recent years, Friday Night Lights and Arrested Development. I'd managed to successfully stay away from the marketing for Hancock where I'd totally forgotten Peter Berg was directing. Watching the shaky-cam style Hancock was shot in, it reminded me a whole hell of a lot like Friday Night Lights. Then Buddy Garrity showed up. Then the little kid who lived next door to Tim Riggins played Jason Bateman's son. By the time Jason Bateman brings Hancock home to meet his wife, Charlize Theron, I was half expecting to hear the familiar "Mr. F" jingle. The main villain, as it was, even had a hook for a left hand like Buster Bluth. If Gob had rolled his Segueway across Jason Bateman's cul-de-sac, it wouldn't have surprised me.
Hancock's trailers pretty much give away the entire first half of the movie. We know going in that he's a drunk who sleeps at bus stop benches, smashes through highway signs, launches obnoxious children into the stratosphere, and tossed a humpback whale back into the ocean, demolishing a faraway sailboat in the process. We know he volunteers to go to prison to "get better." And that's still mostly it. The rest of Hancock's story turns out to be thinner than my girlie wrists. There's not a whole hell of a lot more going on. Summer blockbuster movies tend to overstuff their convoluted plots with lots of multiple storylines taking place to numb the senses, but Hancock takes the opposite route where we follow the A story of a superhero who he does and says surprisingly little. Meanwhile, there is no B story. The big action beat where Hancock, in a Wolverine leather uniform, puts a stop to a bank robbery was a highlight. Hancock making a point, as instructed by Bateman, to tell all the cops "Good job!" was the best runner in the picture. The climactic moments in the hospital were a bit of a letdown because the ersatz villains the movie provides were no match for Hancock, even in a weakened state.
The second half of Hancock provides a carefully worded reveal of who and what Hancock is. We're given an extemely sparse explanation, but somehow it was sufficient. Curious, though, that for an amnesiac with as many questions as the audience about his origin, history, abilities, and purpose, Hancock neglected to ask what his real name is. I did like how the movie layered the clues before the reveal of what Hancock is: the scribblings on the walls of his cell he etched with his fingernails of eagles and pyramids and Charlize noticing he has a bruise on his hand before dropping the big surprise of the movie. The visual effects were extremely convincing. Whether lifting a car, smashing through buildings, or tossing a whale several miles, the physics of everything Hancock did felt like it had the appropriate weight and mass.
The performances from the three leads do all the heavy lifting. Hancock works mainly because of the charms of Will Smith, Jason Bateman, and Charlize Theron. Smith was in rare form; embodying the angry, confused Hancock character while carefully measuring his inner conflict of being bitter towards humanity yet wanting to perform do-goodery. Smith held back virtually all of his trademark Will Smith-isms to bring the Hancock character to life. Bateman playing the sunniest and most naive version of Michael Bluth he could muster, under-reacts to all the property damage and insanity he's personally involved in. Bateman got two of the movie's biggest laughs: His drunken line about "Hancock tucking me in" and his scolding Charlize for being rude to Hancock at dinner: "Do you want him to kill us all?" Theron had the thankless job of having a Really Big Secret! she's just dying to tell but can't so she compensates with angry glares. The movie gets another big laugh when Hancock uses various kitchen tools to test his curiosity about Theron. She did sell the dramatic moments later on with Hancock in the hospital room. The one character who everyone should be worried about is the kid who plays Bateman's son. He already started off the movie with bully problems, but in the last ten minutes he personally witnesses two bad guys shoot Hancock in the back, shoot his stepmother, Hancock defenestrating two bad guys, his father chopping off the main bad guy's hand, and his stepmother flatlining and then coming back to life. Someone should probably have a talk with him. That boy could be seriously fucked up.