Hancock


Hancock

The Fresh Prince don't get any fresher than this.

(2008) Superhero (Columbia) Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Eddie Marsan, Jae Head, David Mattey, Thomas Lennon, Johnny Galecki, Nancy Grace, Mike Epps, Hayley Marie Norman, Darrell Foster, Liz Wicker.  Directed by Peter Berg

We look to our heroes to be paragons of virtue. They are handsome (or beautiful), brave, selfless and modest. However, not all heroes are built that way. Sometimes it takes more of a hero to overcome the lack of those qualities and still remain heroic.

Hancock (Smith) is one such. He is irritable and socially awkward. He is also a raging alcoholic who often makes a shambles of his attempts to help – the clean-up bills for his appearances are often more than what he prevented from being stolen. The public despises him because of his attitude and his apparent uncaring that his actions cause millions misery.

One day he rescues an idealistic P.R. flack named Ray Embrey (Bateman) from certain death when he stops his car from being hit by a train. Grateful, he takes Hancock home for dinner, introducing him to his wife Mary (Theron) and his son Aaron (Head). Ray offers Hancock his services to help rehabilitate his image but Hancock sullenly declines. Mary, who has taken an intense dislike to Hancock, tells Ray he’s a lost cause and to forget him.

Part of Hancock’s issue is that he has no memory of his past. He doesn’t know how he wound up where he is, only that he’s there. Now he wants more, having had a taste of a normal life. Reluctantly, he agrees to have Ray rehabilitate him.

Part of Hancock’s rehabilitation involves him making amends, so Hancock agrees to go to prison to make up for all the damage he’s caused. While there Ray designs a new suit for him so that when the city becomes besieged by criminals who are attacking citizens with impunity, realizing Hancock isn’t around, Hancock will be ready to display his new image – and he does and as Ray predicts, people begin to love him. However, there is something on the horizon – something that goes back to the secret of Hancock’s past, something far more insidious or deadly than any super villain.

In many ways, this is one of the more imaginative super hero movies to come along. Here we have a hero who isn’t particularly likable, played by an actor who is known for his charm. The result is a little surprising. We’ve never seen Will Smith like this before.

Bateman, who is currently one of the most sought-after comedic actors in the business, was more or less known more for his TV roles as a juvenile (and getting his career jumpstarted again with “Arrested Development” after essentially losing the 90s to drug use and alcohol) before Hancock and it is his performance here that really ignited his movie career.

Theron has good chemistry with Smith and her little secret is surprising (if you haven’t seen the movie I won’t reveal it here) and well-played. Unfortunately, the studio blundered into revealing the secret in the trailer so if you haven’t seen the trailer, don’t watch it before renting the movie.

The special effects are surprisingly unremarkable, although I think most of the big-budget big-ticket superhero movies have pretty much shown off all a superhero can do, at least at present. There is a climactic battle that doesn’t seem particularly spectacular, although there are some shots that are pretty nifty.

What I like about the movie is the smart premise and the different take on the superhero, one who is vulnerable emotionally and not always there to save the day for the right reasons. He is fully capable of messing up, and often does, doing more harm than good despite his best intentions – and his intentions aren’t always his best. Hancock is depicted as going through the motions, another day at the office. Even a superhero has off days.

There is a generous amount of humor here but the filmmakers play it surprisingly safe, which I think is a good call. Turn this into a spoof and it just becomes another shot at comic book fandom (and there are plenty of those out there). However, play it straight and it becomes a serious look at what makes a hero heroic. We see that the best of men can be humbled, and it is often the not-quite-the-best of men who make the best of heroes.

WHY RENT THIS: An unusual take on the superhero genre. Bateman is awesome in a role that helped turbo charge his career. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A noticeable shift in tone from the first part of the movie to the last reel.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of action-like violence peppered by a few bad words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the scene where Mary gets ready for bed, she is wearing a Macalester College t-shirt; that is director Peter Berg’s alma mater.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a single disc DVD with just the movie, a two-disc Special DVD edition which has both the theatrical release and unrated versions of the movie, also available on the Blu-Ray which gives viewers the option to watch the eight-part making-of featurette as a picture-in-picture accompaniment to the main movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $624.4M on a $150M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Conan the Barbarian (2011)

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The Other Guys


The Other Guys

Ferrell, Coogan and Wahlberg finally figure out they should have read the script before signing to do the movie.

(Columbia) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Steve Coogan, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Dwayne Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Derek Jeter, Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr., Ray Stevenson, Bobby Cannavale, Natalie Zea, Brett Gelman, Anne Heche, Ice-T (voice). Directed by Adam McKay

There are heroes, men who put themselves on the line for justice and to protect those that they serve. Then again there are the other guys.

Christopher Danson (Johnson) and P.K. Highsmith (Jackson) are the former; Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) are the latter. Danson and Highsmith chase through the city after bad guys, taking them down in a blaze of glory; Gamble and Hoitz do the paperwork.

For Gamble, that’s perfectly acceptable. He lives to do paperwork and began his career in Forensic Accounting, the guys who chase the paper trail. Hoitz is a different matter. He was exiled to this team after accidentally shooting Derek Jeter during the 2003 World Series, leading to a Yankee loss. New Yorkers still hate him for that.

When Danson and Highsmith are taken out of the equation, some other team has to step in to fill the void. The initial favorites are Martin (Riggle) and Fosse (Wayans), a pair of less-than-sweet-natured rivals who delight in putting down Gamble and Hoitz. Hoitz sees this as their chance to escape the doldrums of the station – Gamble refuses to leave the station to do field work until Hoitz puts a gun to his head, quite literally.

Gamble thinks he’s found the case to break the team out; a series of building permit violations linked to a smarmy Wall Street financier named Ershon (Coogan). However, their attempted arrest of the financier brings out an Australian special forces turned Security detail chief (Stevenson) who sets off Hoitz’ cop spider sense.

The two become embroiled in a financial scheme that threatens to bring down New York City; the trouble is, nobody believes these perpetual screw-ups. So it is up to them to prove their case and save the day.

Adam McKay and Will Ferrell have combined on two of Ferrell’s best movies – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Perhaps this one needed a subtitle like The Other Guys: The Station Pop of Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz or some such. That might have brought needed luck to this movie.

Quite frankly, this is one of those movies that set my teeth on edge. It’s the type of humor that thinks it’s funny to re-do the same non-sequitir over and over again; the more you repeat it, the funnier it is. In point of fact, the more you repeat it, the more obnoxious it is. For example, Michael Keaton’s long-suffering Captain Mauch has a tendency to recite lines from TLC songs and then deny that he’s doing it. It wasn’t funny the first time guys…by the fifth or sixth time they do it, I’m ready to take a chainsaw to the midsection of the writers.

There are some funny moments to be sure – Ferrell and Wahlberg are far too talented to make this irredeemable. I do like the bits where Ferrell keeps on referring to his wife Sheila (Mendes) as “plain.” Everyone who’s ever seen the woman knows she’s anything but, so that’s a non-sequitir that actually works. There’s also a scene involving Highsmith and Danson – you’ll know which one it is because it takes place at the conclusion of a jewelry robbery – that comes out of left field and actually had me roaring with laughter (ghoulish as it may have been). More stuff like this and I’d have this movie up there with The Hangover.

Unfortunately, most of the best moments are in the trailer. For reasons I cannot fathom, critics really like this movie, comparing it favorably to Kevin Smith’s similarly-themed Cop Out from earlier this year. I haven’t seen that one yet so I can’t comment on the validity of the comparisons, but I think it’s just that there has been such a dearth of genuinely good comedies this summer that critics are seizing on what is patently a mediocre movie at best and latching onto it like a life preserver during the Perfect Storm.

In a weird twist, the end credits run over a series of graphics illustrating economic facts about CEOs, ponzi schemes, Bernie Madoff and 401Ks, which looks like a very different movie – and one I probably would have liked better. It leads into an extra scene at the film’s conclusion, which shows a valiant attempt by Wahlberg to tell a joke. Outtakes can be fun after all.

I suppose it’s possible that I’m a mutant that just doesn’t get this movie, but it left me completely flat and that wasn’t the case in the movies I mentioned earlier, which I thought were some of the funniest movies of the past ten years. Surrealism isn’t necessarily comedy, a truism that even Salvador Dali understood. Apparently, McKay, Ferrell and Wahlberg don’t.

REASONS TO GO: There are some funny moments.

REASONS TO STAY: Most of the funny moments are in the trailer. The movie tends to ram its jokes down your throat over and over again.  

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of action movie violence, sexual situations and salty language so younger kids are out.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Michael Keaton character Gene Mauch was named for the manager of the California Angels back in the 1980s; Ferrell is apparently a huge Angels fan.

HOME OR THEATER: If you must see it, see it at home.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: The Oh in Ohio