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SuperHero ABC
by Bob McLeod
(Bargain-priced Hardcover from Amazon)
. "Hancock"

There's a new superhero on the planet and he lives large in Los Angeles. He saves people's lives and harbors a strong dislike for criminals. So why does Hancock (Will Smith) inspire so little admiration?

Maybe it's because he a klutz? The guy's just out of control. He jumps off into the sky at hyper speed (if not supersonic) but hasn't found a way to trim it down for the landing. The one-superhero wrecking crew hits like a rocket without a war head, causing some serious road work. He could be dubbed Mr. Pot Hole for all the asphalt he rips up. He's also a heavy boozer (like constant) which may be partly to blame for his lack of control. So, there you have the makings of his very serious public relations problem.

What's at the root of it only a dose of super-therapy is likely to uncover. Whatever made him what he is came with amnesia and neuroses. He has the impulses of a child but is actually centuries old.

Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) recognizes the problem after Hancock pulls his car from the path of a moving train and then overdoes it by stopping the train in its tracks, cold. It causes a huge pile-up of train cars and vehicle damage to the car behind Embrey's. Oh, to be an insurance company in a Hancock world.

Embrey is a dreamy do-gooder who has been presenting his idea to corporate boards to give their product away for free in order to capitalize on the resulting good will. That hasn't worked yet, so he has a lot of time to devote to his rescuer, to whom he feels indebted. He embarks on a Hancock make-over, including sensitivity training, anger management and personality improvement. Hancock goes along with Embrey's program and his public ratings improve immediately. Crowds are won over without the corollary damage that has been the mark of his "rescues."

But something isn't exactly right. When Embrey invites Hancock to join his family for spaghetti and meatball dinner, tyke Aaron is joyful but Mary Embrey (Charlize Theron) appears guarded. Something about Hancock disquiets her. However, judging from the guest's reaction, the once-a-week meatballs are a hit.

Hancock's "clean-up," however, isn't permanent and a reversion ends up in a jail conviction. Of course, that's laughable since no jail could hold him. But Embrey argues the case for Hancock to accept the penalty and demonstrate his acceptance of responsibility. A major fun moment is when Hancock enters the jail population for the first time. He's immediately surrounded by the losers he put there, and they just don't get it that payback, against Hancock, will only aggravate their physical discomforts.

Mary visits Hancock, bringing son Aaron and a casserole of the meatball dish for the super-inmate. But what's on her mind is to convince him to go away when his sentence is served before he hurts hubby Ray in ways she can only hint at. And, here, we thought she was taking a shine to Hancock.

This is the turning point in the movie, when the attempt to explain the history and processes of Hancock's powers is introduced. This is where the movie runs out of ideas commensurate with its concept.

In fact, the first part wouldn't play so well if it weren't for the Smith personality breathing charm and humor into the part like few other actors could. Fans might agree with me when I say Smith is a casting superhero in this movie generation. But, you can't quite say he can do no wrong. Even Will Smith is subject to the quality of the material.

Director Peter Berg and writers Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan did some smashing work in establishing their new superhero and showing us how much fun he can be, giving him quirks that endear him to us by virtue of the character's faults and failures. But, there comes a time when explanations are in order and this part of the assignment brings the film into weak and questionable territory.

Call it the "serious message part," it recalls the immortality concept of "The Highlander" and switches to a modern, romantic setting for a mythology that doesn't fly too well. Finally, they resort to tired melodrama that not only leaves us weighted down with super-cliche' but with a flipflop on the concept's own logic. This action junkie expected better than what director Berg settled for.

Theron's appearance in this movie as a woman connected to both male lead characters comes as a calculated and charming surprise. Given no big advance billing, it makes for a nice discovery. Who says Hollywood PR can't be modest... and make it pay off?

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The DVD (Unrated Edition)

Same in Blu-ray

The Soundtrack

Whether "Hancock" justifies a need for a new superhero in a spring-to-summer season filling the sky with them, is a question that will be answered in worldwide boxoffices. Smith fans, which comprise a very large cross-demographic population, will probably respond to the Hancock poster art of Smith's mug as I did, with a must-see response, so good attendance is highly probable. The mixed critical reaction, though, is likely to keep other moviegoers in doubt.

Casting and technical departments are covered. John Powell's soundtrack is sound (see link below). CG effects are spotty but there's enough exhilarating power displays to justify action fan attendance. Angelenos will take away a special satisfaction in this geographical answer to Smith's Manhattan-staged "I Am Legend." But, after all the above, should you spend the bucks to see it? Sure, if you've got them.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Hancock (Will Smith) makes a landing.
Fighting crime; Tearing up taxpayers' streets.

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