2008, Movie, PG-13, 92 mins


Peter Berg's sloppy misfire is situated somewhere between the dumb, high-concept comedy of MY SUPER-EX GIRLFRIEND and M. Night Shayamalan's dark, anguished UNBREAKABLE. Like SUPER-EX, it's a comedy set in an ordinary world afflicted with an out-of-control superhero with serious emotional problems. But it's also loaded down with all the psychological seriousness that made UNBREAKABLE such a drag; the result is an inconsistent, incoherent anti-superhero action-adventure comedy.

With his superhuman strength, indestructible body and ability to leap far in to the atmosphere in a single bound, resident superhero John Hancock (Will Smith) should be best-loved guy in Los Angeles. Instead, he's the most hated. Hancock is an anti-social, on-the-skids alcoholic who generally can't be bothered to put down the bottle long enough to chase evil-doers, and when he does his drunken attempts at heroism invariably costing LA millions in damages. Footage of the mayhem he causes has made Hancock a YouTube staple, and like all celebrities who've crashed and burned in public, Hancock is in desperate need of an image makeover. Fortuitously enough, he meets the one guy who's up for the challenge when he saves idealistic publicist Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) from the path of an oncoming train. Ray brings Hancock home for dinner, and though his wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), takes an instant and extreme dislike to the crude, boozey Hancock, whom she considers a terrible influence on their young son, Aaron (Jae Head), Ray is undeterred and lays out his plan to rebrand the superhero as uber-mensch rather than uber-menace. First, he convinces Hancock to turn himself into the police -- he's been on their most-wanted list since causing $9 million worth of damage while chasing carload of bad guys down a freeway -- and serve prison time. Not only will he appear contrite, but as the crime rate climbs – which it surely will in his absence -- the good people of L.A. will realize just how important John Hancock really to their safety and well-being. Meanwhile, Hancock will attend group therapy sessions with a prison psychologist and work on improving his interpersonal skills, particularly when it comes to dealing with the LAPD. But as weeks pass with no word from the Chief of Police, Hancock is left to fend off attacks from his fellow prisoners -- many of whom he put behind bars -- and dwell on his personal problems, which are many. When the call finally comes, a new and (hopefully) improved Hancock is unleashed on a crime infested City of Angels. But has anything really changed?

With an excess of shallow focus, shaky hand-held camera and grit -- not to mention blood in the disturbingly violent climax -- it's clear director Berg (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) was aiming for an alternative to the high-tech gloss of blockbuster comic-book movies like SPIDER-MAN and IRON MAN. The inappropriate camerawork makes the special effects sequences shoddy-looking and difficult to follow, but the film's real problem is Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan's script, which falls apart after a disastrous second-act twist. As the mystery behind Hancock's identity unravels and the superhero mythology piles up, the film begins to feel as though it were written on the fly. The good cast does what it can with the weak material, but the waste of talent only makes the film's total failure that much more regrettable. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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