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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Not an Iceberg, Just the Tip: Hancock

We tried to see Dark Knight yesterday, but the suburban multiplex was positively heaving with suburbanites. We were in line behind 3 girls who were about 14 or so, and decided that stabbiness would result if we were in the same theater. So. Hancock, which everyone seems to have hated. But we're on the same page as Ebert & Roeper, which has got to count for something, si?

Of course, we can't know if this is simply the magic of drastically lowered expectations at work, but M and I both found it far more entertaining than some of the more savage reviewers would believe possible. The smattering of positive reviews all seem to touch on the potential, even as they allow that the movie didn't realize most of it. That's pretty much my take.

The script, in particular, felt very much like a draft in several senses. There are lines of dialogue that are slightly off. Jason Bateman's character says, "I'm running at windmills," for example. Running vs. tilting isn't the biggest deal in the world, except that Bateman's character is a PR guy—someone who is likely to know the usual phrase and is in the habit of using words just so. In other instances, there's odd use of prepositions or other elements of dialogue that clunk, either because there was insufficient editing, insufficient direction, or the lines were, at one time, meant to evoke a specific dialect that was abandoned after casting.

More substantively, it feels like some of the important logical and emotional points of the plot feel underwritten. Certainly the mythos/origin for Hancock, which is left until the last two acts, turns out to be kind of a mess. I don't necessarily mind not dwelling on what Hancock actually is, and although amnesia is a plausible reason not to dwell on it, the revelation that he has no memory from before the moment he woke up in a Miami hospital with a skull fracture 80 years ago comes a bit late in the game. And I'm not sure that Vy Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan intended for that reveal to be as out of the blue as it turned out to be, at least for me. In retrospect, I realized that the battered Lucky Strike tin holding a little cash and two tickets to Frankenstein were meant to foreshadow his immortality and the duration of Hancock's current incarnation, but we don't see the items closely enough, nor are they unambiguously of the past. I'm pretty sure I have a ticket stub from seeing Frankenstein.

I'm about to reveal a big spoiler in the following paragraph, so in the unlikely event that you care or will see this, don't read on.

As I remarked to M after the movie, one thing about Hancock completely tanking is that I was wholly surprised by the revelation that Charlize Theron's character was a superhero, too. (Of course, the fact that Charlize Theron is in the movie at all was some kind of state secret.) Again, I had retroactive realization that something was supposed to be foreshadowing. In this case, I think it was a flat out script flub, though, rather than my missing something subtle. When Ray (Bateman) invites Hancock in for dinner, he asks, "Honey, is the heat on?" Given that they're in southern California, my first question was, "They have heat?" In the moment, I took it as a reference to financial problems the family was having that had resulted in loss of utilities or something, but it seems to have been referring to the fact that there's some kind of literal shedding of heat going on, either as that's one of Mary's (Theron) powers or as a byproduct of the rather muddled power loss that results when these pairs are together.

As for more legitimate notes that the script hits to foreshadow Mary's secret identity, certainly her character's instant hate-on for Hancock raised an eyebrow. Interestingly enough, though, it's played in such a way that it could be read as unwanted attraction (although they're still playing up the personal grossness of Hancock at that point) or even as racism. Even though the latter turns out not to be the case (and the former isn't exactly the case), it's interesting that the movie lets that note ring. More interesting (and a little disappointing, because there's some distinct issue skirting), there is passing reference to the fact that these two might've come under attack not just as supernatural beings, but as an interracial couple.

Other narrative problems include a fairly sudden face turn for Hancock and the instant acceptance by the public that goes with it. It feels odd to make that criticism, because backsliding, becoming a complete turd to the geeky friends who made you as you become enamored of the new in crowd, etc., would have been so very done, but the movie just kind of skips to the plot twist rather than doing a whole lot to deepen what the audience sees of Hancock's character. The villains are completely undeveloped, too. In fact, it was downright distracting to have the backstory for "Red" delivered by a newscaster in the background.

But even if the story as a whole has some pretty serious flaws, it also contains a number of really well done moments and emotional notes: The surprising and ironic earnestness in a PR guy; Hancock's very real, very comprehensive loneliness; not playing the convicts' support group for laughs; and, surprisingly, the belated exposition about Mary and Hancock's history.

Ebert and Roeper both seem to have been unable to bring themselves to hate the movie, because the performances are so good. I second that. I'm not quite willing to say you either like Will Smith or you don't (I do), because he handles the role differently than you might think. Hancock is the first role I've seen Smith in (including I Am Legend) where it looks like he might be aging a little (ironic, given that he's playing an immortal), and it's more than a visual trick. His performance really conveys how eroded the character is by his isolation.

I probably should have been watching Arrested Development all along, given that my heart was broken when It's Your Move got canceled before the much-anticipated (at least by me and my posse of 1) Part 2 of "Dregs of Humanity" could air. ( does NOT back me up on this, but I KNOW IN MY HEART that the show went on hiatus after part 1 aired, and it never came back. Who are you going to believe, me or some stinky website?) He's great, great, great in this, and I'm pretty sure that he made me feel and think about all the things that Tom Cruise supposedly made everyone think about in the incredibly trite, boring, and overrated Jerry Maguire.

It's never good when a name actor's role in a movie gets no press whatsoever. This, at least, claims that this was a deliberate omission to protect the plot twist. Certainly, Theron's performance gives no indication that she was a reluctant inclusion in the cast. She's good on the face of it, and very good indeed in retrospect when her real identity and relationship with Hancock are revealed and you realize the subtle notes she's been playing.

Anyway, I'm not going to argue that you should blow the cash on seeing this in the theater, but it's far more entertaining than its bad press suggests.

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