Jul 5, 2008

Hancock: wish this movie well

For those who haven't heard, Hancock is about a drunken-bum superhero played by Will Smith who wakes up on park benches hungover, flies drunk, smacks into buildings, topples telegraph poles, shunts trains, wrecks cars; when he lands he crashlands, the sidewalk buckling beneath his feet, like a kid on a carpet. "You want people to be pleased you've arrived," advises a wonderfully emollient Mark Bateman as a PR man who take it upon himself to rehabilitate the grizzled bum.

As Hancock is hauled before a podium to apologise to a large angry public, then sent to prison to serve time for the damage he has caused, the story takes on shades of OJ and Mike Tyson and Coby Bryant — all the black superstars who have taken the plunge from public disgrace to rehabilitation. He even seems at times to stand in for the Bush administration, villified by the press for his blunderbuss ways — "You are not above the constitution" harangues Nancy Grace, while a small French kid calls him an "asshole." Hancock picks him and sends the little squirt hurtling into the sky. In its portrayal of a rogue super-hero, learning how to wield his powers and win back an abused and distrustful public, Hancock could well turn out to mark the beginning of Obama's America, in the same way Rambo marked Reagan's.

In almost any other year this movie would probably have bombed. Early word had that it was a train-wreck, Will Smith's first big stumble, and reviews suggested a lumpen Last Action Hero for the new millennium. It's too slight for that. It has a skimpy, skit-like feel, shot in hand-held documentary style, with a skipping bluesy soundtrack. What it is is bonkers. There's a sliver of genuine craziness to this movie, particularly in its second half, after a plot twist involving Bateman's beautiful blonde wife (Charlize Theron) sends it hurtling off, at speed, into the thickets of taboo — to do with white women, black sexuality and the like — that American movies rarely go near, let alone plant a big grey-blue vinyl super-boot.

But the craziness is not the craziness of folly. Its the kind of hot mid-summer craziness that hits a nerve. I saw it last night with a large July 4th audience who sat there astonished, delighted and flabberghasted in rapid succession: there was a fair bit of head scratching as we left the theatre. Independence Day it ain't. But it is bold and original and I haven't a clue how well it will do. How often can you say that about a movie these days?

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