DVD Release Date:  November 25, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  July 2, 2008
Rating:  PG-13 (for some intense action sequences of sci-fi violence, and language.)
Genre:  Action/Adventure, Comedy
Run Time:  92 min
Director:  Peter Berg
Actors:  Will Smith, Jason Bateman, Charlize Theron, Eddie Marsan

Hancock went through “Development Hell” and it shows.  After various scriptwriters, directors and even titles came and went, the project finally landed at the feet of director Peter Berg (reportedly the fourth one attached).  Rather than bringing a cohesive vision, Berg’s Hancock feels like a movie that was made from whatever draft was lying on the producer’s desk at the time and with the guiding principle of “let’s just get this done already.”

Not that the film lacks energy or is boring.  If anything, with all of its loud destruction, bombastic music and profanity-laced dialogue, it overcompensates.  But all the bells and whistles eventually can’t distract from the fact that Hancock—despite its intriguing high-concept premise—completely falls off the rails halfway through.

Hancock is a superhero movie with a twist:  the superhero (Will Smith) is a foul-mouthed drunk who makes bad situations worse before finally bringing them to an end.  His rescue attempts (often under the influence and performed with a bitter, careless attitude) create even more destruction that racks up damage costs into the millions.  Much of this is played for humor (that works), though it should be noted that the film goes to excessive lengths (through profane and crude language) to establish how much this guy is not a role model.

The citizens of Los Angeles have had enough and wish that he were gone, but PR guru Ray Embry (Jason Bateman) wants to help change all that after Hancock saves him from an oncoming train.  Ray’s makeover plan is extreme and requires sacrifice on Hancock’s part, but slowly it begins to effect good until a major robbery-and-hostage crisis could prove to be the catalyst that really turns things around—both for Hancock’s public image and personal struggles.

And then the movie falls apart.

About halfway through, a major character revelation sends the story careening in a completely different direction.  Though a lurking secret is strongly insinuated in the film’s first hour, the revelation still comes as a complete surprise and, subsequently, requires the film to essentially ditch its unique anti-superhero character study for a muddled mythology. 

Though the turn attempts to define why Hancock is the way he is, it’s more messy than clarifying.  Plot holes are created, major lapses of logic required, and the level of details revealed about this new context are limited to what will keep the plot moving but fail to make everything actually come together (let alone actually care about these people or what’s happening to them).  An original concept suddenly becomes a generic legend, and Hancock and Ray—two entertaining and well-matched opposites—become flat.

Berg goes into stylistic overdrive to try to distract us from how lame this whole development and conclusion is.  But when the character whose secret is in danger of being exposed acts in a way that telegraphs to the world that very secret, well, it just doesn’t make any sense.  Unless, of course, the logic is to throw in some spiffy action sequences. 

But even prior to all of that, Berg’s signature hand-held style (seen in Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom) is really out of place in this summer tent pole wannabe that, given its heightened reality, requires something more polished and less visually confusing.  You’re there to laugh and have a good time, not be distracted by constant headache-inducing camera jerks.  Then, too, are utterly stupid moments (played with dramatic tension) of criminals ominously confronting Hancock or seeking revenge against him knowing full well who he is and what he can do to them.  I mean, seriously?!

The full name of Will Smith’s character, incidentally, is John Hancock—directly inspired by the prominent signature on our Declaration of Independence.  So given that this debacle is released on the weekend we celebrate that signing, it’s a sad irony indeed.  Granted, this scathing review and countless others won’t keep Hancock from opening huge over the Fourth of July weekend, but count me surprised if this movie lives on once its true identity is finally exposed.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Drinking, mostly by the troubled hero Hancock.
  • Language/Profanity:  PG-13 levels of profanity throughout (twice by children), much of it delivered cavalierly by Hancock, including one “F” word (which is becoming common in PG-13 fare).  Some dialogue is sexually coarse.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Very little.  At one point, Hancock’s pants are burned and tattered and part of his bottom can be seen.
  • Violence/Other:  A lot of action-violence and destruction (shootings, car wrecks, buildings damaged, etc.).  A hand is severed off and carried around.  A scene of multiple point-blank range shootings.  Hancock literally shoves one prisoner’s head up another’s rear end.



Jeffrey Huston is a film director, writer and producer at Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Okla.  He is also cohost of the "Steelehouse Podcast,” along with Steelehouse Executive Creative Mark Steele, where each week they discuss God in pop culture. 

To listen to the weekly podcast, please visit www.steelehouse.com or click here.  You can also subscribe to the "Steelehouse Podcast” through iTunes.