June 26, 2008

Hancock, round 1.

Hancock "When this movie opens July 2, it will be eviscerated," predicts Variety's Anne Thompson. "It's a movie that tried to be smart and weird and interesting, with gifted filmmakers behind it: producers Michael Mann and Akiva Goldsman (who do cameos), edgy screenwriter Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) and director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom). They created a fascinating damaged, alcoholic, homeless superhero, well-played by Smith, but their attempts to mix and match smart character-based drama (Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman also star) with superhero action adventure (VFX by Sony Pictures Imageworks) is a Frankenstein's Monster."

Updated through 7/2.

"This misguided attempt to wring a novel twist on the superhero genre has a certain whiff of The Last Action Hero about it, with Will Smith playing an indestructible crime-buster in a pointedly real-world context," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Although it will inevitably open very large, this odd and perplexing aspiring tentpole will provide a real test of Smith's box office invincibility."

For Stephen Farber, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, the problems begin when Hancock "veers from comedy to romantic tragedy and introduces an elaborate backstory that never makes much sense."

"Outright baffling choices mark the last 30-35 minutes of the movie," agrees Brent Simon in Screen Daily. "Interesting narrative opportunities have been discarded in favour of a twist which creates needless confusion, and saps the film of its accrued goodwill."

"As superhero dramas go, I'd give it three capes," writes Rachel Abramowitz in the Los Angeles Times. "But the pure boom-boom factor of the genre made me feel bludgeoned. Again.... Author Peter Biskind, who's written books about movies and culture in the 50s, 70s, and 90s, assures me that superheroes return with bad times.... Janine Basinger, a film historian from Wesleyan University, has a slightly different take on it. 'We all want a daddy, don't we?'... While I believe in hope and change, I know some cynics (mostly die-hard Hillary Clinton supporters) who think Barack Obama taps into the same collective yearning... Obama-man has no past. Like all caped crusaders, he is a mysterious cipher, and yet a reassuring figure, like Superman or Spider-Man.... As screenwriter David Koepp (Spider-Man, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) notes: 'Hollywood is only obsessed with superheroes because audiences seem to be. As soon as audiences are not, Hollywood will scrape them off their shoe.'"

Meantime, as Lizo Mzimba reports for the BBC, Smith's more than happy to talk up Obama.

"It's a superhero movie that is not a superhero movie," writes David Poland. "It has complex ideas. It has quiet moments when most studio movies would be giving you zip. It pushes the funk harder than usually makes studios comfortable."

Chris Lee in the Los Angeles Times: "I won't spoil the surprise here, but let's just say Valkyrie-like South African Oscar-winner [Charlize] Theron has a much meatier part in the film than you might otherwise be led to believe by her marginal presence in various trailers, billboards and one-sheets for Hancock."

Updates, 6/27: "Will Smith memorably starred in sci-fi movies called things such as I, Robot and I Am Legend," notes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "This one could be called I, Asshole or I Am Asshole, or perhaps just Asshole.... I wondered what it might have been like with Snoop Dogg in the role, out of his head on skunk and habitually abusive. Well, he might have been awful in other ways: but he wouldn't have been as solemn."

"[F]or everything that doesn't work in Hancock, there's a sort of structural anarchy going that's refreshing - it rebels against even the adolescent formulae of rebellion to give us something more adult," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "It also has one quality that your average superhero flick never does: you haven't the faintest clue where it's going."

Update, 6/28: "Subversive tendencies would certainly be welcome amid all the cookie-cutter product being funneled into cineplexes by play-it-safe studios, yet aside from the fact that its crime fighter initially comes off as a boozy jerk, director Peter Berg's latest assumes a superficial deconstructionist attitude while strictly adhering to conventions - especially, and ineffectively, during its second half, when the story goes so far off the rails that its illogicality flirts with abstraction." Nick Schager in Slant.

Update, 6/29: Carole Cadwalladr profiles Charlize Theron for the Observer.

Update, 6/30: For David Denby, writing in the New Yorker, Hancock is "a surprisingly resonant spectacle that places three people with recognizable feelings in the middle of a wild fantasy.... Hancock suggests new visual directions and emotional tonalities for pop. It's by far the most enjoyable big movie of the summer."

Updates, 7/1: "Hancock is just intriguing enough that I kept wishing it were better," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "But Berg doesn't have the subtle touch that this material needs.... It's Smith who seems truly lost. His two most recent performances - in the 2006 The Pursuit of Happyness and in last year's I Am Legend - were so astonishing that it's become hard not to expect miracles from him.... It's the sort of role Smith ought to be able to pull off easily. But even his superpowers apparently have their limits."

"There's something ugly and profoundly self-absorbed about the go-nowhere loser comedy Hancock, a superhero action blockbuster that arrives in theaters tomorrow almost as a big-screen equivalent of an US Weekly magazine," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "When not poking fun at its central celebrity when he's down on his luck, the film cashes in on the drama as he's shuttled off to rehab, then slaps together a redemptive coda without doing any of the heavy lifting. All things considered, reactions to the film will likely mimic those of gossip-rag readers: fleeting enchantment slowly replaced by indifference."

Updates, 7/2: "Although whatever teeth it had have mostly been pulled, Hancock makes for one unexpectedly satisfying and kinky addition to Hollywood's superhero chronicles," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "[W]hile it would be a stretch to say that this summertime amusement has much on its mind, it does have a little something percolating between its big bangs and gaudy effects. Most of that something isn't overtly political, despite the setup (Super Angry Black Man), a few winking asides and Mr Berg's downbeat tendencies."

"Hancock's so indefensibly enh during its first half-hour that it almost doesn't recover; like its hero, the movie comes off as a touch suicidal," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "But slowly, and clumsily, Hancock lurches toward greatness." Still, "It doesn't take itself as seriously as it should, and undercuts a final act that should have and so could have packed a mighty emotional wallop. Noted a colleague after a preview screening: 'Here's a superhero movie that could have used more pretension.'"

"Hancock is hardly the worst movie of the summer season," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "(That would probably be this or this.) But it is in some ways the most frustrating: a clumsy, half-hearted mishmash dropped carelessly into the holiday weekend with the clear assumption that Big Willie's superpowers will be enough to catch it and hold it aloft. I (like every moviegoer on Earth, if box office numbers are to be believed) consider myself a fan of Will Smith. But Hancock, even more than its protagonist, has deep-seated problems, and anyone who gives it money is only enabling its misbehavior."

"It's a movie with an identity crisis that seems to offer one gentle pleasure but instead offers a harsher experience by far," writes Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post. "It's very, very strange."

The Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns also finds it "deeply strange" and offers a little background: "This kooky patchwork of a project was spun from a much heralded, notoriously unfilmable script called Tonight, He Comes, penned by first-timer Vincent Ngo, that surfaced sometime in the 90s. The double entendre title referred to our hero's struggle to keep a lid on his libido, a sort of extra-graphic riff on the great Mallrats gag in which Superman can't screw Lois Lane because his Kryptonian super-spooge will most likely rip her in half."

"The lunacy of the plot twist would be acceptable if it were given the appropriate loony-bin treatment," writes Sam Weisberg in the L Magazine. "Instead, the story shifts between trite slapstick and humorless exposition - if we are told, for instance, that Smith was scarred in a Constantine-era battle, why not show it?"

"A critique of Hancock is an essay in irrelevance," decides Time's Richard Corliss. "You'll go see it anyway." So he turns his attention to Will Smith, who "deserves that overused epithet 'the last movie star.' For more than a decade, he's been immune to moviegoers' fickle fashions."

"When we shell out to see a star vehicle, we are effectively paying insurance premiums which we get back in the form of more precious time with that chosen celebrity," blogs Ryan Gilbey for the Guardian. "What we're getting in Hancock is essentially a metaphor for the making of Will Smith."

Richard Vine talks with Berg for the Guardian. The director insists Smith is not a Scientologist, by the way, which, if true, would be, you know, a relief.

"[G]iven that the movie itself is a cynical, slapdash moneymaking machine - yes, that's Akiva Goldsman, screenwriter of Batman & Robin and coproducer of this film, glimpsed in the boardroom scene - it mainly succeeds in trashing the ideal of summer-movie entertainment," writes Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out New York.

"Smith's foray into superhero movies manages to entertain," shrugs Amber Humphrey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "For those keeping track, Hancock is no Men in Black (1997). Thankfully, though, it's no Wild Wild West (1999) either."

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Posted by dwhudson at June 26, 2008 7:21 AM