Cock-up, up and away

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

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

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