The concept is simple and brilliant. Hancock is a superhero. Hancock is a bum. And most importantly, Hancock is Will Smith delivering acid put-downs, and as he proved in I Am Legend, Smith is easily likeable enough to carry an entire film on his own.
We’re served the joke straight-up in the first few minutes: a boy wakes a drunk from his stupor on a park bench and points out some bad guys in a live car chase on TV. Next moment, the drunk (Will Smith) is in the air, rolling and dodging until finally catching up with the car thieves only to tell them not too shout so loud because his head hurts.
The ensuing damage leaves Hancock facing a warrant for his arrest, but hes not exactly the type to go quietly until he saves the life of failing PR agent Ray (Jason Bateman), who convinces him to try a stint in prison to clean up his act and get people to love him again.
Its a great idea and the pumped-up Marvel genre is ripe for a take-down, but although Hancock does a much better job than the lame jabs of Superhero Movie, it just isnt as funny as it wants to be. Director Peter Berg seems to have been so overwhelmed by all the effects work that he forgot to give the comedy enough room to breathe.
Bateman and Smith play well off each other and Charlize Theron provides solid support as Rays sceptical wife. But theres just not enough. At times, Smith seems to be biting his lip to hold himself back from adlibbing off the script. A few gross-out moments dont redress the balance.
And then, like Hancock himself, the concept goes dry. With nowhere left to take its central character and with no super-adversary in sight to provide the usual showdown things take a sharp left-turn. The neat concept is dropped in favour of taking itself more seriously: cue some exposition, some fast-paced action, more exposition, the hasty addition of a feeble adversary and a bleak and scary final reel.
After I Am Legend and I, Robot Smith must be getting tired of plots that go limp, and although Hancocks twist is more coherent than either of those two its just as unsatisfying and bizarre. Falling between the two stools of slapstick and epic its unlikely that the whole of the brief 90 minute run-time is really going to please anybody.
The look of the film is similarly unbalanced. With Michael Mann as an exec producer its perhaps not surprising to find some of the lingering night-time cityscapes and washed-out evening colours of Collateral and Miami Vice, but theyre ill-matched with the clearly lit close-ups of the very beautiful cast. (At least until the films end, when a darker and more violent tone takes firm hold.)
The combination of a novel idea and Smith in comedy mode promises much but sadly the film is too loose with its knockabout punches and too stumbling when trying to be serious. Some time in the rehab of the editing suite might have made it a great 40 minute short. As it is, Hancock would have landed straight in the bargain bin if it werent for Smiths wit and charm keeping it in the air. But its, you know, kinda wobbly.