Posted on November 25, 2008 at 8:00 am
The problem is, this is not a 4th of July movie. It is not a bad movie. It is not a good movie either. It is a flawed but interesting movie but its biggest problem is that on the 4th of July the kind of Will Smith movie people want to see is a brainless summer blockbuster with some cool explosions, some quippy dialogue, and the kind of bad guy you can cheerfully enjoy seeing fall off a building. This is not that movie, and people who expect that movie are doomed to disappointment. Go see Iron Man again. Or put those expectations aside, start from scratch, and go this this messy but intriguingly ambitious film. Inside the $150 million-budgeted would-be blockbuster there are two or three quirky little indie films trying to get out.
Will Smith’s Hancock may be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to soar like the eagle, his favorite animal, but he is no Superman. He dresses like a homeless guy, drinks like a wino, and talks like a sulky teenager. He will save lives, catch crooks, and hurl beached whales back into the ocean but he won’t be happy, nice, gracious, patriotic or careful about collateral damage. Everyone needs him but no one likes him. He doesn’t like anyone and he doesn’t like himself.
When idealistic PR guy (if that is not an oxymoron) Ray (Jason Bateman) gets stuck on the train tracks, Hancock rescues him and (literally) drops him off at home. Ray invites Hancock in for dinner and offers to give him some help with his image. He advises the petulant superhero to accept responsibility for his actions and remind everyone they cannot get along without him by spending some time in jail and getting some help with anger management. Pretty soon Hancock is shaving, wearing a streamlined leather superhero suit, and handing out compliments to the cops. And he looks pretty good. After all, he’s Will Smith.
But then the story takes a darker turn that makes it at the same time more provocative, more interesting, less safe, and much, much messier. Smith, Bateman, and Charlize Theron as Ray’s wife do their best to ride the bucking bronco of this movie’s seismic shifts set up by director Peter Berg and writers Vy Vincent Ngo & Vince Gilligan but by the end, which bears the unmistakable marks of a panicky recut to make it more upbeat. Too little, too late.
And so a promising idea about a superhero with an existential crisis several times greater than the “great power means great responsibility” growing-up metaphors of Spider-Man and other Marvel and DC denizens wobbles through wildly misjudged moments with way too much emphasis on the metaphoric and literal aspects of the terminating point of the lower intestine and then turns a sharp corner and has something of an existential crisis of its own, leaving the audience itself asking why we are here — meaning in the theater.