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by Bob Garver

            July 4th weekend is practically reserved for Will Smith.  In previous years, he’s had July 4th hits with “Wild Wild West,” two “Men In Black” movies, and the appropriately-named “Independence Day.”  This year’s offering is director Peter Berg’s “Hancock.”  It is a worthy entry into this tradition, but it may not go down as one of the best examples. 

John Hancock (Smith) is a superhero in Los Angeles.  He may be a match for Superman in the sheer number of powers he has.  He has super-strength, super-speed, super-sharp nails, and of course, the ability to fly.  He certainly has the potential to benefit humanity.  But he usually chooses not to.  And when he does, he ends up doing more harm than good. 

Most movies downplay the collateral damages caused by superheroes.  “Hancock” downplays the results.  The newscasts barely say a word about the people saved and the criminals caught, choosing to focus almost entirely on the millions of dollars of damage done in the process. 

Maybe if Hancock himself were more likeable, the public would go easier on him.  Alas, that is not about to change.  Hancock is belligerent towards most people (even kids), and is mean when he’s drunk, which is often.  There is even a running gag where people refer to him by an unprintable name. 

Ray (Jason Bateman) does not feel this way about Hancock.  The two meet after Hancock pushes Ray’s car out of the path of an oncoming train.  Most of the bystanders yell at Hancock for handling the situation badly (pushing the car into another car and causing the train to derail rather than lifting the car up and letting the train pass).  Ray admits that Hancock has a few rough edges, but feels that he is generally underappreciated.  By amazing coincidence, Ray is a professional publicist.  He vows to repay Hancock by improving his public image. 

Ray invites Hancock to his home for Spaghetti Night.  His wife Mary (Charlize Theron) isn’t too happy with her husband’s new best friend.  At first, she seems to have good reason – Hancock is rude and a bad influence on their son.  But soon it becomes apparent that she has a more important reason to keep her distance from Hancock. 

It is about here where “Hancock” takes a sharp turn in the wrong direction after an impressive first act.  Up to this point, the film was supposed to be the “bad boy” of superhero movies.  Hancock bumbled, drank, and cursed (and there is a lot of cursing).  The public was unappreciative and disrespectful.  Nothing was as it should be, and it worked because it was so ironic. 

But once the movie starts to get into Hancock’s origin (and Mary’s secret), it loses its focus.  No longer is it a smart-alecky superhero movie.  It is just a regular superhero movie.  Another regular superhero movie in a summer overstuffed with superhero movies.  Incidentally, if all goes to plan, my next review will be an exclusive look at the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight.”

As a regular superhero movie, “Hancock” just falls apart.  The special effects are once again crummy CGI creations that don’t fool anybody.  The climactic action sequence is shrouded in rain and shadows (always a sign that they wanted to hide things like stunt doubles and landing mats).  Perhaps worst of all, the villain (Eddie Marsan) is unintimidating and unmemorable.  Not for a second does he seem like a threat, even when Hancock is in a weakened state. 

The ads for “Hancock” play up the first act of the film, where Hancock has to deal with being a superhero in a world where people focus too much on collateral damage.  This is a good marketing decision, because it emphasizes the best parts of the movie, before it turns sour.  If Berg hadn’t strayed so far from this element, the film could have been much better.  The early scenes are legitimately funny and touching.  “Hancock” is at its best when it is the film it says it is. 

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