Cock-up, up and away
HANCOCK Directed by Peter Berg. Starring Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Eddie Marsan 12A cert, gen release, 92 min WILL SMITH, everyone’s favourite coil of optimism, in a biopic of the superhumanly grumpy comic Tony Hancock? Now, that would surely be a catastrophe worth witnessing.
Sadly, this strange film is about something else entirely – what, exactly, is hard to say – but it remains one of the more interesting failures of the summer. The word on the street is that the studio, puzzled by the film’s busy jumble of genres, made liberal use of the shears in the weeks before release. As a result we have been left with a film that, at just 92 minutes, is as mercifully brief as it is hopelessly jumbled. There must be more sensible ways of spending $150 million.
The central high-concept is relatively easy to state: Hancock is a drunken, foul-mouthed superhero in need of an image retool. He does still outfox the odd master criminal, but, increasingly befuddled and unfocused, he tends to pull down too many skyscrapers and knock about too many passers-by in the process. The police distrust him and media loudmouths positively loathe him.
Then, one happy day, Hancock plucks an endlessly decent PR consultant (yes, you read that right) from the path of a hurtling train. The relieved executive, who is played by the likeable Jason Bateman, decides to reward his rescuer by rehabilitating the public’s perception of him. He must spend a while in jail. He must remember to thank the cops. He should, of course, buy a skin-tight costume.
It’s worth noting that there are few new ideas here. As many members of the public feared the original Spider-Man as respected him. Alan Moore’s Watchmen, a key comic of the 1980s, considered the unhappy lives superheroes might have in a version of the real world. The TV series Heroes also touches on similar themes.
Yet Peter Berg, the erratic director of The Kingdom, has found something fresh to do with the material. Taking his cue from producer Michael Mann (who has a cameo), Berg sets Smith’s Hancock adrift in a noisy hyper-real LA. The star successfully plays against type, and the opening sections trundle along quite successfully.
Then, about halfway through, the film screeches off the highway and plummets into oblivion. To this point, Charlize Theron, playing Bateman’s wife, has had little else to do but scowl from the pantry. When she becomes more actively involved in the story, the absence of those narrative threads left on the cutting- room floor becomes hard to ignore. The story just about makes sense, but the motivations of the three leads and their actions are bafflingly, head-scratchingly obscure.
Why is she doing that? Why would he want to go there? Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain? (The last Tony Hancock joke is a total non-sequitur and is, therefore, right at home in a discussion of the last half hour of this barmy movie.) DONALD CLARKE Soundtrack reviewed on page 14
Superoaf: Will Smith and Jason Bateman in Hancock