Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hancock - Aw, Hell No.

As the credits rolled for Peter Berg's Hancock I was overcome by a feeling of loss. The film didn't feel complete.

The story of John Hancock (William Smith), a super being squandering his life in alcohol and a badly decorated trailer (he's just up the way from Martin Riggs's digs), he means well but keeps screwing up little things that are costing the city of Los Angeles far more in property damage than he's saving by fighting crime.

Fate steps in when Hancock saves the life of Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a starry-eyed public relations man. He helps instate the "great responsibility" part of the equation to Hancock's great power. He talks the soused superhero to pay for his "crimes" by going to jail and undergoing counseling. When a bank is taken over by heavily armed baddies (think Pacino's crew from Heat), the major relents and calls for Hancock's release.

He saves the day, of course. Then how the people love him as they shouted out with glee, "Hancock, the super-powered smart ass, you'll go down in history!"

It's around this point where the film runs out of gas. Instead of rolling credits, it goes on for another half hour, treading into some fairly ridiculous territory. This is when the big "twist" that you may have read about occurs. I won't let the cat out of the bag as I went in without knowing and it actually surprised me. Surprised and then, ultimately, disappointed me.

Worse than the twist, Hancock failed for me because it--like the title character--didn't live up to its potential. There are few comic books that succeed at really investigating the notion of superpowered beings in the "real world" ("Marvels", "Watchmen", "Astro City", etc). There are fewer films that attempt to tackle this notion, often with dismal results (My Super Ex-Girlfriend, anyone?). Hancock doesn't so much miss the mark as aim for something else.

The first half of the film feels like the description for a better movie. More incidents of Hancock's wrong-headed heroics would have better set the stage for the public's hatred of him. Moreover, in this cynical age it'd take more than one redemptive act to get back into the public's good graces. Exploring the public relations challenges of marketing a superhero could have made for a far more interesting film. There aren't many movies where I really think, "I hope there are a bunch of deleted scenes on the DVD," but this was one of them -- just because Hancock needs more meat on its skeletal structure. Fade it out after Hancock finds his footing and that's the movie. The rest of it, including the utterly unconvincing antagonist, should be trimmed and burned. Don't let me down, fan editors!

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