Thursday, July 3, 2008
There's not very much in Hancock that works. And what does work works quite well, but rather than lifting this mediocre superhero picture to something higher, those elements simply throw its mediocrity into sharp relief. And relief is exactly what I felt when the movie ended.
Reportedly, the original script for Hancock followed its boozing asshole of a superhero to some really dark places, including statutory rape. But that particular R-rated picture wasn't made, so we're left instead with this one, a disjointed and confusing mess that switches tone and mood so quickly that it manages to cram 3 or 4 different movies into its brief running time. And if most of them are not very good movies, the final one, brought about by the film's obligatory/unnecessary plot twist, is horrendous.
As I said before, what works works well, and by that I mean the character of Hancock and the casting of his sidekick, PR-guy with a heart of gold, Ray Embrey. The character of Hancock is brilliant, and I find myself hoping that there'll be a comic book prequel or adaptation written by somebody with balls. Hancock is a boozing amnesiac superman who takes off, flies, and lands exactly like you and I would if we were gifted with the power of flight but perpetually hungover: poorly. He does more damage than good, and he's a menace to his city. And although Will Smith is more than adequate as the big guy, after his masterful role in I Am Legend, I was hoping for more.
In comes the PR guy he saves, Ray (Jason Bateman). Ray is a pretty stupid character; he's a PR guy who seems to know nothing about the essentials of PR. All he does is insist that companies make charitable concessions so he can certify them with his "all-heart" brand of charitable approval. But if the character's nonsensical, the only actor alive who could pull him off has been cast. In his best roles, as in Arrested Development and Juno, Bateman has delivered some sort of bizarre combination of smugness and earnestness, something I wouldn't think possible. In his hands, a clean-cut, morally dubious but well-meaning character comes alive on the screen - he's the only thing authentic in this whole picture.
Inauthenticity is what ultimately brings down this whole movie; many things, most powerfully the "twist," ring false. Ray is a PR guy who doesn't have anything resembling a PR plan for anyone he talks to. After he rehabilitates Hancock's image, he still tries to shill his all-heart scheme without ever thinking that he could get Hancock's help. Seriously, not once does this supposed PR guy think that he could use all the good PR he's garnered to help with his charitable project. Not once.
The film abounds with such problems. Hancock's first post-rehabilitation crisis involves a police standoff with bank robbers and hostages. When he arrives, there's a gunfight going down. There's no negotiation. The cops and robbers are just shooting at each other; the cops don't mention the hostages, and the robbers don't threaten them. Eventually, when it's too late and Hancock has got the situation almost completely neutralized, the head baddie mentions C-4 and makes some demands. Why didn't he make the demands before the superhero showed up? Why didn't he kill a few hostages to get the cops to back off? Why? Why? Why?
Historically, pretentious film critics have a phrase for this kind of movie, the kind of movie which resembles the real world only enough that we understand what's blowing up on screen, the kind of movie where every character is just a cardboard cutout, the kind of movie where everyone seems to be not a person, or even a policeman or criminal or PR guy, but only what a 13-year old who'd never done any research on the topic imagines those people to be. The kind of movie that mistakes silly plot twists for intricacy. That phrase, usually used in conjunction with "all the depth of a" or "as stupid as a," is "comic book." Masterpieces like X-Men, Iron Man and Batman Begins have made it clear that "comic book" shouldn't be a critical bad word anymore. Trash like Hancock - which wasn't a comic book to begin with - makes it look like those pretentious critics were right all along.