July 8, 2008, midnight | By Lauren Kestner | 15 years, 4 months ago

A heavily anticipated "Hancock" delivers stunning special effects but a stale storyline

With gratuitous violence, a few transparent punch lines and one big-name celebrity, "Hancock" makes a half-hearted attempt to join the ranks of classic super-hero movies – "Spiderman," "Batman," "Superman" – that have long appealed to movie-goers of all ages. The film's only salvation are the striking special effects, evocative of the James Bond movie line, that appear in the form of bullets, breaking glass and scorching explosions to startle and excite audiences.

John Hancock (Will Smith) is the famed crime-fighting superhero in Los Angeles, blessed with an impenetrable bullet-deflecting exterior, super-human strength and formidable flying powers. But Hancock's crime-fighting missions begin to lose their appeal when his efforts to apprehend criminals cause irreparable damage to the city. Citizens become angered when the nearly destitute Hancock – operating recklessly in his typical drunken state – overturns a moving train to save a man stuck on the tracks. The young man, introduced as Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), expresses his gratitude to Hancock and offers to coach him on public relations.

At the Embry household, Ray's wife, Mary "Angel" Embry (Charlize Theron), alerts Hancock to the warrant that has been issued for his arrest. Ray convinces him to spend time in jail as part of their plan to restore public confidence in Hancock and cultivate a desire for his return to crime-fighting in Los Angeles. Sure enough, the chief of police soon requests that Hancock help police forces detain four high-profile criminals who are holding 20 people hostage to facilitate a bank robbery. Tense encounters between Hancock and the lead criminal from the bank robbery, Kenneth "Red" Parker Junior (Eddie Marsan), account for the more thrilling fight scenes in the movie.

The premise of "Hancock" is unreservedly trite; details of his past, revealed half-way through the movie, are ambiguous and fail to explain the true extent of his antagonists' motives. Dialogue created by writers Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan takes a stab at humor, drawing on the irony evident in Ray and Hancock's clashing personalities. But vocal disagreements between Ray and Hancock – typified by Ray's composed, levelheaded manner and Hancock's hotheaded, indignant tone – come across as forced.

Acting performances are as threadbare and shabby as Hancock's signature attire – a worn cap and light blue shirt covered by a tattered leather vest. Smith received national acclaim for his part in movies such as "Men in Black," "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "I am Legend," but his performance in "Hancock" leaves much to be desired. He bares a grim, stoic expression for most of movie, never quite conveying all of the pain, anger and confusion one would expect Hancock to feel as the lone superhero despised by criminals and citizens alike. But Smith's flawless delivery of a few punch lines brings fleeting laughter to compensate for the lacking storyline. After Hancock levies near devastation on a local train, a rather heavy man in the crowd insinuates that Hancock should be sued for the damage. As Hancock, Smith wisely retorts, "you should sue McDonald's – they [screwed] you up." Bateman also brings some solid grounding to "Hancock." His performance as the calm and collected advisor is reliable, but not quite ground-breaking.

Stunning special effects sustain some interest in "Hancock." During one memorable scene, Hancock strides nonchalantly down a city street as bombs detonate left and right. Bullets ricochet off his suit and fiery explosions shatter sheets of glass from nearby office buildings. In a gripping sequence of events, Hancock grabs a woman cowering under her car and shelters her from the steady stream of bullets by turning the car sideways and using it as a shield. Dynamic crime-fighting scenes like the one described above are loaded with enough bullets, bombs and explosions to fuel minimal interest in "Hancock."

For fans of the original superhero movie classics, "Hancock's" excessive display of bullets, breaking glass and scorching explosions may not be enough to justify the purchase of a movie ticket. Better stick to "Batman Begins" and "Spiderman 2."

Hancock (92 minutes) is rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence and language. Now playing everywhere.

Lauren Kestner. Lauren Kestner loves Trader Joe's chocolates, cheesy television soap operas, summer trips to Lake Anna, coffee ice cream from Coldstone Creamery, hikes at Northwest Branch and shopping at Heritage. Playing soccer for Blair or her MSC club team and running at the gym consumes much … More »

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