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July 9, 2008 - Rick Chatenever
Is anyone else tired of superheroes yet? Even when they’re played by actors as likable as Will Smith? Granted, most people aren’t forced to go to movies as part of their job descriptions. They can weigh in on the superhero issue — or weight out — by staying home. Some people aren’t even sure who Will Smith is.
They’re the exception. Will has enough fans to have put his new “Hancock” atop the worldwide box office charts for another Fourth of July weekend. In the industry, he’s Mr. Independence Day.
And Hancock isn’t your typical superhero. Like Robert Downey Jr.’s far more enjoyable “Iron Man” at the beginning of summer, Hancock’s got issues.
Sleeping on an L.A. bench with empty liquor bottles nearby, his style is more skid row than caped crusader. He’s a surly dude; even on the movie screen, he reeks. His table manners are atrocious (a moot point when diving in dumpsters.) He’s Super … Homeless … Guy!
While Hancock can definitely leap tall buildings, repel bullets and fly around skyscrapers toting an SUV in one hand, it’s less fun with a hangover. Which might explain the sour look on his face under the stocking cap and shades.
In his last movie, “I Am Legend,” Will was the last man standing in New York City. Now with “Hancock” crawling around L.A. gutters, he has cornered the alienation market, coast to coast.
Maybe Will should seek professional help. May- be he needs to speak to someone. Is there a subtle message in there about how lonely it gets at the top?
But considering that this is Will’s 12th movie to open at the top of the charts, making him by most accounts the biggest movie star in the world, his “problem” isn’t exactly a problem.
In the case of Hancock, it’s hard to say exactly what it is. This is one challenging movie to label.
Action-comedy? Action-comedy with a trace of sadness? Adventures of a not-quite-super hero? A reminder that superheroes need love, too? A live-action version of “The Incredibles” — ?
As superheroes go, Hancock is the careless one. He doesn’t just leap tall buildings; he bumps into them. When he comes in for a landing, he does it like a bulldozer. When he jumps in to save the day, L.A.’s municipal government isn’t pleased. The cleanup bills run in the millions.
Hancock (don’t ask how he got the name) needs an attitude and image adjustment, and some alcohol counseling wouldn’t hurt. He’s a superhero in need of a makeover.
Enter Jason Bateman, who’s in the PR business. Throw in Charlize Theron as Jason’s wife, who’s not too keen on her husband’s rehab program, and you’ve got the dots to connect until the final credits roll.
You can’t recount the plot without numerous spoiler alerts. Trying to figure out just who, or what, Hancock is leads to one surprise after another, even though it sometimes feels like the writers are making them up as they go along.
The movie gets dark when it should get funny. Hancock goes from cranky to vulnerable to super and back again, for no good reason. While all three stars make their characters appealing, they spend many scenes biding their time, as though waiting for the writers to figure out what to do with them.
This has been the summer when superheroes have been known for their flaws as much as their powers. From Downey’s “Iron Man” to Smith’s “Hancock,” there’s been no shortage of men of steel with feet of clay winning the weekly box-office race.
Indiana Jones is one step shy of total geezerness, Maxwell Smart can barely find his way out of a phone booth. The hero of “Kung Fu Panda” has weight issues. “WALL-E” isn’t human to begin with.
None of which can compare to the hubbub coming next week with the release of “The Dark Night.” The media machine is already in overdrive, not about the hero, Batman, but his nemesis, The Joker played by Heath Ledger, whose fatal flaw was too powerful for the screen to contain.
Turning to comic books for our cultural heroes has long felt a little dumb to me. It seemed like we could aim higher.
Then I realized superheroes have been around from the beginnings of myth and history. They just used to be called gods, goddesses and demigods.
Their roles were to teach us lessons, to inspire us, to illuminate the difference between good and bad.
The lessons for today’s demigods —from Downey’s demons through Smith’s lonely power trips to Ledger’s tragic death — all boil down to how difficult it is to just say no.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com
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