Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: PG-13 for intense action, violence and language
Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Will Smith positively owns summer; it wouldn’t be blockbuster season without a Smith entry on the essential Independence Day calendar. Is he worth the hype?
Absolutely. Smith delivers a pitch-perfect performance as John Hancock; a grungy, sodden super-hero whose dubious rescue tactics are not looked kindly upon by the increasingly aggravated residents of Los Angeles.
The premise alone is worth the price of admission and the first hour is some of 2008’s most intriguing cinema; edgy black dramedy with surprising depth.
Hancock is faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound but suffers from deep feelings of rejection stemming from an 80-year-long bout of amnesia and the fact that he was abandoned at a Miami hospital in the mid-1920s.
As the tetchy Angelenos rebuff Hancock he rebuffs back, his slipshod do-gooding resulting in felony destruction and some six-hundred subpoenas for civil suits. Not your run of the mill super-hero!
There’s a core of vulnerability under that hefty psychological armor and image consultant Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) is determined to polish Hancock to an amicable shine. His plan includes a widespread public apology and a stint in the slammer, where Hancock will undergo anger management classes and alcohol rehabilitation. Dropping down on $100K Mercedes and taking out city streets with scorching landings are off limits.
Humor is laced with sorrow as Hancock strives to interface with the community and mold himself into an upbeat people person, losing his emotional footing time and time again. I laughed long and hard when Hancock rescued a beached whale by tossing it into the chilly California waters, and, oops, onto a picturesque sailboat. I also shed a tear at Hancock’s confessions of hurt and confusion that no one claims ownership of the wildly conflicted man-child.
Director Peter Berg stays solidly on tone for two-thirds of this clever summer actioner but loses his footing with the addition of an over-pixilated super-hero side-note that skews seriously towards ludicrous. Fortunately the climax is affecting enough to gloss over the worst of the narrative damage.
Smith is aces as the jaded anti-hero, every nuance packing a hefty emotional punch. Bateman does Bateman spot-on; sweet and silly with smarts to match. Charlize Theron gives good face to dutiful housewife Mary Embrey but struggles with the film’s most fragile set-piece. Graphics are top-notch.
Fabulously flawed but I just can’t shake it.