John Hancock (Will Smith) may be a superhero, but he's sad, surly, scowling and usually soused. Not to mention unshaven, the real sign that he's not like Superman or Spidey or Iron Man or the Hulk.
Oh, he manages to stop a freeway gun battle, but he spikes an SUV atop the Capitol Records building in Hollywood and leaves a trail of million-dollar damage -- and ill will -- in his wake. With his wool cap, sunglasses, mismatched clothing and tendency to snooze on park benches next to empty whiskey bottles, he won't be getting the key to the city of Los Angeles anytime soon.
No one uses the usual four-letter word (hero) in addressing him in "Hancock," opening in select theaters tonight and everywhere tomorrow. Adults and even a few children rely on a seven-letter insult that starts with "a" and ends with "e" to describe him.
2 1/2 stars = Average
- Starring: Will Smith and Jason Bateman, with Charlize Theron.
- Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and language.
- Web site: 'Hancock'
All of that could change when a do-gooder named Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) is rescued by Hancock when his car is stuck on the tracks with a train barreling toward him. Ray invites Hancock to dinner at his house, where his wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), nervously eyes him, and his son, Aaron (Jae Head), immediately befriends him.
Ray, an image consultant by trade, is a softie who wants to save the world. "It can't feel good that people hate you," he tells Hancock, offering him a makeover and getting more than both men bargained for, in the end.
"Hancock," directed by the versatile Peter Berg ("Friday Night Lights," "The Kingdom"), is a welcome departure in this summer of superheroes, although not always a well-executed one.
The action comedy trades on Smith's tremendous appeal, talent and charm but suffers from a nastiness in both tone and dialogue, including a favorite Hancock threat involving one man's head and another's backside.
A child is made to witness some horrific moments, but the movie's kryptonite is that it feels like an abridged version of itself, with its final third especially problematic. Plus, a bonus scene that plays with the end credits is funnier than anything that came before.
I wonder if the eventual DVD will carry deleted scenes or if Berg simply intended this to be a lean, mean machine written by Vy Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan, whose credits are largely from television. Gilligan, the more experienced of the pair, was a writer and producer of "The X-Files."
With his signature smile kept largely under wraps, Smith has to project decades-long pain at his lonely, inexplicable predicament, and, as always, he succeeds. That's no surprise for anyone who saw his most recent movies, "I Am Legend" and "The Pursuit of Happyness."
"Hancock" reunites Bateman and Theron, who shared a handful of "Arrested Development" episodes. Bateman's boyish enthusiasm serves him well, and Theron's role is a world away from her serious turns in "Monster," "North Country" and "In the Valley of Elah."
Like the movie itself, however, the action scenes are a mixed bag. An opening sequence that shut down a California freeway for five days is a high-flying hoot, but a later superhero skirmish along Hollywood Boulevard is less successfully rendered and missing the obvious joke about the costume-clad impersonators who linger on nearby sidewalks outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
With "Hancock," Smith no doubt will reclaim his Fourth of July crown. He wears it well, even if the writers and director have pawned some of its jewels and left it with a few dings in the precious metal.
Post-Gazette movie editor Barbara Vancheri can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1632. First Published July 1, 2008 4:00 AM