Movie News & Reviews

Superhero meets a bad ending

This summer reaches its superhero saturation point precisely 56 minutes into Hancock, a comic riff on guys who go around saving the world, one car-stalled-on-train-tracks at a time. Fifty-six minutes in, the “comic riff” is abandoned for something even less consequential than flipping and “flipping off” the conventions of these Iron/X/Super/Spider/Bat-men. That's when Hancock, drunken super savior of Los Angeles, goes on the wagon.

The immensely likable Will Smith plays the endlessly unlikable title character, whom we meet when he's passed out on a bench. A small boy tries to alert him to the bullet-­riddled police chase playing out on live TV in the store window just behind him. Hancock ain't hearing it.

So the imp calls the superhero what everybody in L.A. calls him, a word that rhymes with “gas bowl.”

Hancock will eventually do the right thing. But he's clumsy about it. He accidentally smashes into buildings. He tears up streets when he lands. Yet somehow this slob never seems to drop his ever-present whiskey bottle.

This is a comedy about a ­superhero who's had enough and a public that's just as fed up with him. Every person he saves or crook he catches earns his ­politically incorrect contempt; every rescue earns public derision. If it weren't for the fact that nothing and no one can stop him, he'd be in jail or in ­litigation (shades of The Incredibles).

But maybe jail would save him. That's the brainstorm of Ray (Jason Bateman), the idealistic public relations agent who wants to save the world himself and who takes on the super guy's bad image after Hancock saves him from the train that's about to hit his ancient BMW.

Ray takes an interest, brings Hancock home to meet the wife (Charlize Theron) and son. They feed him (over wife Mary's ­objections), and Ray makes his pitch. Make like Michael Vick: apologize. Do some time in prison. Let Los Angeles want you back.

“I'm going to teach you how to interface with the public,” Ray coos. That means smiling, thanking the ­police for their efforts, a new costume, a new “entrance.”

“Your landing is your first impression, your superhero handshake.”

See Hancock manage his anger. See him do group therapy. Watch him cope with a prison filled with guys who want him dead. Hear Will Smith make with the threats.

“You fellas sure you wanna ride this train?”

Hancock isn't the satire it might have been, of a touchy-feely, litigious, politically correct nation that needs to remember you have to break some eggs (and some heads) to save the world. Iron Man had the same irreverent attitude without all the profanity, the same need to send “a message” but with a more coherent message to send. The chief villain (Eddie Marsan of The Illusionist) is good but kind of an afterthought.

But it's fun to watch Smith act all surly and stoned, and director Peter Berg makes the special effects play for laughs. Passable if profane, Hancock chugs along right up to that moment when this comic superhero engine goes off the tracks, off the trestle and pretty much off a cliff.

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