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This superhero is simply super bad

POSTED: August 31, 2008 5:01 a.m.
/Columbia Pictures

Will Smith, right, plays a bad superhero, in more ways than one, in "Hancock."

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Hancock (Will Smith) is an anti-social, apathetic drunk with superhero powers. One day, he reluctantly saves the life of public relations expert Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), who in return makes it his mission to give Hancock an image makeover. Ray's wife Mary (Charlize Theron) doesn't like the idea and seems to be hiding something.

That's about all the plot summary necessary, since what little story "Hancock" offers is given away by the trailers. The movie takes that promising premise and does nothing original or interesting with it.

Hancock flies recklessly, crashes into buildings, tosses around cars and trucks, smashes trains and just generally makes a big racket. And he swears a lot.

There's nothing wrong with that, really, since that's the stuff of many summer blockbusters. But it doesn't give us much reason to get excited, either.

A number of problems keep "Hancock" from being anything more than a series of special effects tricks and obnoxious jokes.

Usually, Smith's charisma and humor give movies a boost. But Hancock is completely unlikable for most of the movie, so the writing doesn't give Smith the chance to light up the screen. People in the movie don't like Hancock, and we viewers don't, either.

It's strange to talk about plausibility or realism in a superhero movie, but there are several plot points that don't make sense. A good superhero concept establishes rules for its particular fictional world, then sticks to them. "Hancock" switches the rules whenever things get dull. The story doesn't develop naturally out of the characters or the concept.

I'd also love to know how this received a PG-13 rating. On top of the extreme violence, all the major obscenities are there: the F-word, the female dog word, the feces word and the A-hole word. In fact, that last one is a major theme. What really makes Hancock lose his temper is being called an A-hole. It's the movie's go-to joke.

Come to think of it, "Hancock" shows a peculiar fascination with that body part. At one point, Hancock teaches a couple of criminals a lesson by shoving one man's head up the other's ... you know. So thanks to digital technology, we get to see that grotesque image. I truly could have done without it.

But that sums up the humor in "Hancock." They go for the cheap joke at every turn, and Smith doesn't even get to toss off any good one-liners. It's as if Mike Myers were the joke writer, and he just threw in a handful of his lamest jokes.

The entire movie is as superficial as the humor.

They exhaust the idea of a superhero without heroism midway through, so it felt like it should have ended at 45 minutes.

Since they were unable to mine that scenario for more humor or meaning, the writers shift gears and the second half of the film is a mishmash of a love triangle, backstory, plot twists and superhero rules that just don't fly.

And ultimately, we've covered this territory before in "The Incredibles" and elsewhere. Being a superhero comes with superhuman responsibility and problems. Society doesn't always appreciate the superheroes' tactics. It's funny to see superheroes leading normal, mundane lives. Been there, done all that.

It isn't bad enough to demand your money back, but you'll probably forget most of it on the drive home.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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