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Hero is as hero does



Will Smith proves superpowers work despite bad-hair days.
  • Will Smith proves superpowers work despite bad-hair days.

*Hancock (R)

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Cinemark 16 IMAX, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown

I thought: "Brilliant! Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?" A reluctant superhero. Who would want to ask for superpowers, anyway? It would be a burden, wouldn't it, after about five minutes?

And by "reluctant," I don't mean that annoying Fantastic Four bunch, who enjoy their superpowers but hate it when the little people beg them to save the world because it interrupts their lunch.

I mean: How come it took so long for someone to invent Hancock, an ordinary citizen who feels uncomfortable when society looks to him to round up the bad guys and smile for the camera while doing it?

This is Hancock: He's cranky. He drinks too much. He's not particularly sensitive to the needs of anyone but himself. He has no understanding of "public relations" or, in the vernacular, "being nice to people or at least pretending to be nice so they won't hate you." He's just a regular guy who happens to have superstrength and the ability to fly, and he would rather not be bothered.

There are many joys to be found in Hancock, not the least of which is Will Smith's effortless performance in the title role. Smith manages to be charming even though Hancock himself is quite a jerk. You can't hate him, even though you want to.

Even when relegated to the kitchen, Charlize Theron tosses - a mean salad as Mary Embrey in Hancock.
  • Even when relegated to the kitchen, Charlize Theron tosses a mean salad as Mary Embrey in Hancock.

Then there's Jason Bateman as Ray Embrey, the kindhearted marketing guy who teams up with Hancock to help him improve his image. Some truly fine comic acting emerges in the unlikely intersection between the two personalities. Charlize Theron rounds out the casting as Ray's skeptical wife Mary.

But by the second half of Hancock, I was thinking: "Huh? How did they lose the track?" Because it turns out that this flick ain't the flat-out comedy that the trailer makes it out to be, but is far closer in tone to all the angst-ridden, hand-wringing, existential superhero tragedies in theaters of late.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, except that Hancock appears to defy its setup, which at least in my mind promised an antidote to the Very Serious Superhero Movie. Don't get me wrong: I like the latest flicks, but I'd been enjoying the respite from them that the very funny and sneakily poignant first half of Hancock represented.

I think director Peter Berg (The Kingdom) and screenwriters Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan were enjoying the funny stuff more, too. Because Hancock feels a little undernourished once it turns serious, as if those behind the camera couldn't manage as much enthusiasm for the story's ending as they did for its beginning.

I will confess that during the so-delightful first half, I found myself wondering how the movie could possibly pay off on what it started out promising. Not that that's a reason to excuse the filmmakers, except that having a great idea and Hancock really and truly is a great idea and not knowing quite what to do with it is not all that uncommon.

So here's the thing: Can you tolerate a great idea that doesn't entirely deliver when executed? Can you forgive a movie for starting off awesomely and ending less so? I've decided that I can.

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