What if Superman woke up on the wrong side of the bed—every single day?
Actually, that happened in 1983's Superman III, which is generally regarded as the second-worst of the movies that starred Christopher Reeve (after, of course, 1987's Superman IV). But the third entry was really onto something when the squeaky-clean Man of Steel turned into a dirty, drunken anti-hero after being exposed to a synthetic chunk of Kryptonite.
Hancock, starring box office superstar Will Smith, is onto something too, since it basically takes that idea and runs with it. The problem is, it runs all over the place, especially in the last half-hour. As a result, it's more of an interesting movie than an entertaining one, but at least it's an unusual change of pace after the more basic one-two punch of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.
Smith plays against type (at least, for him) as Hancock, a reckless “superhero” who would rather nurse a hangover than protect the citizens of Los Angeles. At least the feeling is mutual, since he tends to be more trouble than he's worth. Help comes in the form of Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), an idealistic PR exec who offers to give him a much-needed makeover. But when Ray's wife (Charlize Theron) reveals an earth-shattering secret of her own, Hancock's already screwed-up life spirals even further out of control.
After an action-packed opening sequence during which Hancock reluctantly nabs some thugs on the freeway (and leaves a path of destruction in his wake), the film finds its groove as a character study of a troubled superhero who's deep in the throes of an identity crisis. Embrey convinces Hancock to spend some time in jail in an effort to make up for his past mistakes, after which he can hopefully resume his duties and win back the trust of the general public.
This is where Hancock takes a detour from the more straightforward superhero movies dominating theaters this summer, and for at least the first hour, it's clever, funny and surprisingly deep. But when Embrey's wife reveals her “secret,” it veers off track into a choppy, rushed and uneven finale that makes less sense the more you think about it. Never mind that there's too much exposition, but a last ditch effort to add a villain feels more like an afterthought.
But if Hancock has a saving grace, it's Will Smith. Even his mediocre movies have been entertaining ones (witness Men in Black II and I, Robot), and as much as he tries to send up his heroic image by playing an unlikable character, his vulnerability shines through enough to make him thoroughly engaging. He also has great chemistry with co-stars Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman, which is why the movie ultimately ends up being worthwhile.
Hancock apparently went back under the knife after early screenings tested poorly. That led to last-minute re-shoots, and it shows. Proven director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom) comes pretty close to molding it back together into a cohesive 92-minute movie, but the flawed script takes too many leaps in the last act, and it doesn't hold up under scrutiny.
But it still has a lot going for it, so I guess it really was onto something. And if nothing else, at least it was better than Superman III.