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Saturday, July 05, 2008


I’ve never been much of a gambler. I lived in Las Vegas for years and yet I never got “the bug”, well not that one anyway. To me, gambling just seemed like a novel way to throw away your money, sometimes quickly and sometimes over the course of a few days, weeks or months. I had an elderly neighbor named Martha whose husband, Ed, was a hopeless gambler, and over the course of a year he cashed in their retirement savings and cds, emptied their 401k account, and even lost their home in a poker game. Obviously, Ed was more than a hopeless gambler. He was a lousy gambler. You’d think with all that practice he would have gotten at least a little bit better at it along the way, but apparently the old adage “practice makes perfect” really meant that the more he practiced being a crappy card player the better he got at being a crappy card player.

I never understood why, other than that it didn’t occur to him, that Ed didn’t try something really risky and invest his money in movie-making. With so many God-awful movies coming out in the last three decades, it seems he could have lost his money in a classier way than in the back room of some smoky bar, playing cards with a bunch of hairy-knuckled hooligans. Well, he would have, if Martha hadn’t buried a ball peen hammer in the side of his head when she found out about his pissing away their home. Pity that.

Who knows how much Ed would have made if he’d put his cash behind tv’s “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” is anybody’s guess when the then 28-year old starred in a little summer movie called Independence Day (which eventually grossed $975 million). That pretty much sealed Will Smith’s fate as Hollywood’s new Golden Boy and he became everybody’s first choice for every role that came along.

Exactly one year later, Smith (and co-star Tommy Lee Jones) did it again with the comedy Men in Black, and Will Smith secured the July 4th opening weekend as his for the next decade. Studios deferred to him as the King of
the 4th and have backed away from opening their (hopeful) blockbusters on that weekend ever since because they automatically expect a Smith movie to win the box office even if it isn’t all that good, so Ed’s odds at recouping his investments would have been great. Even if he’d bet on a so-so flick like the Wild Wild West he’d still do okay with the following year’s Men in Black II, so, overall betting on Smith seems to make sense. At least it did until this year when we are introduced to the misfire that is Hancock.

Hancock is Smith’s follow-up to his huge hit from last Christmas, I Am Legend. I think the reason I mention some of Smith’s big name movies is so you won’t be too harsh on him this time around. The thing is, Smith is such a nice guy. He gave us The Pursuit of Happyness, for crying out loud. I want you to remember that because it’s not really his fault that Hancock is the mess that it is. He is still as good as ever. It’s just that he is working with a director, Peter Berg (The Kingdom) who seems to have lost the last forty pages or so of his script and then decides to tell everybody to just create their own little improvisational version of what they’d like the movie to be and not one of them seems to consider trying to fit their pieces together, and so he includes them all.

Hancock starts out promising enough. Smith plays an alcoholic misfit like you’d expect to see sleeping on a cardboard box in the alley of almost any large metropolitan city. In this case the city is Los Angeles, and the one teensy difference between this drunk and all the others is that this one can fly and is impervious to bullets.

Yep, Hancock (Will Smith, naturally) is a superhero (of sorts). He is also a YouTube.com star where he has been captured on film countless times in the act of “rescuing” someone or stopping some criminals. The kicker is that in every instance he’s managed to destroy a few buildings or police cars, a public highway, or some monument in the process. He doesn’t seem to care too much how he gets the bad guys because he’s not too keen on people in general.

Along comes a public relations guru, Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman; Forgetting Sarah Marshall), who
Hancock saves from being killed by an on-coming train. While the rest of the nearby crowd boos Hancock for the mess that he makes in the process, Ray thanks the tipsy superhero and offers to give him an image makeover if he’d be willing to give it a try.

Like there’d be a movie if he didn’t. Of course, he’s going to try, but not until we have to spend way too much time with
Hancock thinking it over; I suppose this is a subtle way to assert the fact that he is a 100% heterosexual because if he jumped at the chance too quickly it might give the impression that Hancock was a little light in his loafers, which means something completely different from the fact that he is, obviously, a little light in his loafers since he can just take a leap and is up, up, and away.

The truth is
Hancock has those inner demons we all face… well, maybe not all of us, really only people on soap operas and in badly written movies. Some people drink to forget; apparently he drinks to remember, and it isn’t working. It seems our hero isn’t from another planet or the result of an experiment gone awry, but he doesn’t know where he’s from or who he really is. Uh- huh. Hancock has amnesia. The last thing he remembers is going to the movies with some blonde back in 1931 to see Frankenstein and then waking up in a hospital the next morning. Okay, so that makes him old enough that his date could well be Joan Rivers when she was in her late 40s or early 50s, which means she ought to be a logical one to contact, but he never does ~ just one more loose end in this cinematic potboiler. So, we’ve got a very old amnesia-stricken drunk, who apparently nobody has known existed until just recently when he started destroying the city in the name of justice. I found myself sitting there wondering if Hancock is at least 100 years old, then where’s he been all this time? Is he new to the world of alcoholism or has he always been a lush? How long can he hold it in before he has to pee or blow chunks? Is that considered a superpower, being able to hold it in for hours longer than a regular person? You can see that the script wasn’t exactly captivating my full attention as it gave me plenty of time to let my mind wander.

Anyway, the makeover stuff is the funniest part of the movie in what is a not-all-that-funny of a comedy. Ray convinces
Hancock to turn himself in to authorities for all the outstanding warrants they have issued for his arrest, related to his destruction of public property, and then go off to jail for a very public mea culpa the way Paris, Lohan, and Kiefer did. Imagine a superhero in prison and that will make you giggle. Since he was responsible for putting half of the men in the jail where they are today, there are a lot of hard feelings, and it keeps Hancock really busy “reorganizing” some of the accommodations and a few of the prisoners.

Where the script really loses focus is when we are introduced to Ray’s wife, Mary (Charlize Theron; Sleepwalking) in a complicated and unnecessary subplot. Mary is stepmother to Ray’s son, Aaron (Jae Head of tv’s “Friday Night Lights”) as Aaron’s biological mother died shortly after birth. Why this is important is anyone’s guess, but it seems to be a salient plot point to writers Vincent Ngo (tv’s “Fearless”) and Vince Gilligan (tv’s “Breaking Bad”) who feel it worth spending time on. It’s also clear very early on that Mary does not care for
Hancock and does not want him in her home, which can mean only one thing ~ queue the eyebrow-raising music ~ Mary has a secret.

Helen Keller could see where this is headed because it is telegraphed so loudly and so often before the BIG REVEAL that only through the sheer power of dumb writing could dimwit Ray remain oblivious to everything that is going on until way past the audience has given up figuring out the rest of the plot and quit caring about what happens next. By the big ol’ climax, the reason for even having it seems rather superfluous and barely related to the “bigger picture” and it left me shrugging my shoulders. The reveal of who
Hancock “really” is isn’t clearly explained, or if it is then I must have been dozing off because what I heard was so inane it made absolutely no more sense to me than if he said he was Santa Claus, who we all know is not an alcoholic, well at least not an active one since the elves started that 12 step program at the North Pole years ago and Mrs. Claus put a stop to the Brandy in the egg nog.

So for me the promise of
Hancock fizzled out about the same time the title character cleaned up his act and his past was revealed because once that bit is revealed the entire movie shifts from being about Hancock the not-so-well-skilled hero to about …. well, that’s a spoiler I can’t reveal, so you’ll have to see it yourself if you really want to know.

The script for
Hancock spent years drifting from studio to studio without anyone wanting to make it, which is why it still leaves me shaking my head as to how this of all things is what ended up in Will Smith’s hands and why in the world he chose it as his annual “blockbuster” event. Trust me. As much as I love Will Smith, this is one movie that is more block-headed than blockbuster.

1 comment:

Mikey said...

I agree. I thought Hancock was pretty funny in the first half. Jason Bateman was hilarious and the Hancock character was great. But as soon as they introduced Charlize Theron it went in a downward spiral. Which stinks cause shes my favorite actress. Hollywood just can't use her right. Hmm..