FILM: Hancock

2008-07-06 00:00

WILL Smith needs to choose his vehicles more carefully if his prodigious acting talent is to reach some sort of fulfilment.

Not that Hancock is that bad a film. It is entertaining in parts, in that bland, superhero sort of way that does not exercise the brain tissue too seriously. And it offers quite a fun twist on the genre.

Smith is whiskey-swilling, conflicted, morose, rude and unpopular superhero Hancock. Eighty years ago he woke up with a cracked skull, amnesia and superpowers in a Miami hospital, and when he was discharged a nurse asked him to sign his “John Hancock” (signature).

Hancock needs the coaching of a PR executive — Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) — he saves early in the film to learn true superhero etiquette, such as asking victims if they want to be saved, and saying “good job” to the police even when they aren’t doing one. In many ways the conceptualised character is a more appealing one than, say, super-clean Superman.

After falling out with the public for his raucous behaviour and being imprisoned, Hancock is called back to do a job no one else can do — alleviating a volatile hostage situation. His new PR work pays off, and afterwards he amusingly almost contorts a smile at the society function he is invited to.

But lurking in the background is an attraction to Embrey’s wife (Charlize Theron) and her stolen glances at the dinner table point to there being more to the allure than meets the eye.

Smith in real life seems a little conflicted at the moment, and so does this movie. The multi-talented mega-star has for the past few years, thankfully, put aside his singing career.

After earning rave reviews and surprising the film community with his excellent portrayal of Muhammad Ali in Michael Mann’s Ali, Smith wanted more of the same. But he has not chosen his films too wisely, and the reviews were average for the somewhat bland The Pursuit of Happyness and I am Legend.

In Hancock, Smith, and the tone of the film, shift too abruptly and noticeably between the comic and the sentimental. At one moment we have classic superhero action scenes — buses being thrown, pavements smashed, buildings destroyed and villains thwarted — all accompanied by wry action hero quips.

At the next our character is contemplating life in a prison therapy group, being helped along soulfully by his fellow convicts. It doesn’t quite gel.

Smith has a long way to go to emulate another black American comic actor who has turned serious, Jamie Foxx, who was also in Ali and went on to earn rave reviews in lead roles in Ray and Collateral. And it seems that the “Fresh Prince’s” first superhero role is not the vehicle to get him there.

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