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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

HANCOCK (article first published : 2008-07-10)

With Hancock here’s a classic case of a great idea underexploited and allowed to turn sour - a fantasy comedy for which the original script reportedly started gathering dust more than 10 years ago in Hollywood, when it then carried the title Tonight, He Comes.

The premise is clever and opens itself to loads of possibilities, albeit not entirely original, owing much to the animated romp The Incredibles, which also revolved around a superhero gone to seed then revived and revitalised for a new lease on life.

A grumpy Will Smith is the invincible immortal of the title, a misfire of a superhero who doesn’t shave, dresses like a tramp and drinks liquor straight from the bottle.

He does his best to save people, but grudgingly, and invariably while drunk or hung over - and with a particularly foul mouth (it’s quite astounding that the 10 age restriction is so low, frankly).

Whenever he rescues someone or something, Hancock tends to leave as much trouble and disaster as he prevents. For example, in one of the more impressive visual-effect moments, he tosses a beached whale back into the ocean, but capsizes a large yacht while doing so.

Hancock is a pouty, petulant pest to most and generates incredibly bad press – until the day he saves a sweet-natured PR type, Ray Embrey (a charming Jason Bateman), from being mangled by a train. In return for his life, Ray offers to create a fresh image for Hancock, first advising him to do time in jail for past demeanours and then moulding him into more of a nice guy. He also suggests the most naff-looking superhero suit this side of the Green Goblin.

Up to this point the film moves briskly and entertains constantly. But then the script nosedives by trying suddenly, belatedly, to concoct a back story on how Hancock got here and why he was the way he was – a silly tangent which involves Charlize Theron, who plays Ray’s wife, Mary.

And before anyone accuses me of perhaps giving away too much plot at this stage, let it be known that the signposting of this so-called surprise twist is obvious from the moment Theron (looking particularly sexy, by the way) appears on screen – she’s all twitch, gulp and nervous eyeball shuffling whenever Hancock flies by.

The film is directed by Peter Berg, who wrote and directed 1998’s Very Bad Things and is now directing Dune, a sci-fi extravaganza set for a 2010 release. It’s inspired by Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel. Rating 5/10 – Billy Suter




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