Wednesday, July 9, 2008

‘Hancock’ needs an extreme makeover

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Frank Masi
When disgruntled superhero Hancock (Will Smith, left) saves the life of PR executive Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman, in car, right), Ray tries to clean up Hancock.

Rated PG-13. 92 minutes.


Cast: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman.Director: Tony Smith.

The former ‘‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and all-around smiling show biz dad won’t allow himself to be typecast — well at least in the first half of ‘‘Hancock.” Will Smith plays a grumpy superhero that everyone hates, but can’t live without. And like all superheroes, Hancock is always trying to help those in distress. Yet somehow in the process, he destroys cars, pavement and anything else in his wake. He can shoot himself into the heavens with the ferocity of a supersonic missile, but when it’s time to land back on earth, he’s more like an albatross stumbling across the asphalt.

The story begins with PR executive Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) getting stuck on railroad tracks as a speeding locomotive heads his way. Hancock saves him. The trouble is that Hancock doesn’t know how to resolve a problem without causing millions of dollars of damage. Nevertheless, this save-the-world white guy, with an obsession for developing heart logos, decides to offer this black superhero an extreme makeover. The movie is tightly edited, and the special effects are fun to watch — even for those who are not fans.

Once Charlize Theron enters the picture, as Ray’s wife Mary, the story moves in a totally new direction. With Smith and Theron’s magnetism, the filmmakers could have easily made this movie work — if only they had a story.

Instead, the vagaries of the movie’s plot are disappointing. The writers were careful to stay politically correct, and wrap the movie up in a nice tidy bow.

Plenty of funny scenes keep the movie rolling along. For much of the first half, I embraced the story, even though the plot holes were huge. My friend wasn’t so enamored, finding the plot disjointed and containing too many subplots — from prisoners on the run to a never land where superhero couples never get old and can’t be in the same room. With Theron playing the perfect but steely wife working hard to protect her man and Smith taking on a tough guy role, it could have been fireworks. Bateman tries hard playing the long suffering everyman, and at times, is downright funny. Still, as the film starts to veer into oblivion, he is interchangeable with any middle-aged actor.

Superheroes seem to be taking over the theaters this year and though they each have unique personalities, they seem almost provincial in our global community. Suddenly stopping a bank robbery doesn’t seem nearly as important as stopping a tsunami. I know that we humans relish the idea of a godlike superhero who will take care of us, but Mr. Superhero needs to up the ante: make sure children aren’t abused, stop the fighting in Iraq. In other words, superheroes need to save the world from itself. And it might help if the writers make it funny, too.