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Action, plot twist make Hancock worthwhile

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Surprise! A cunning trick: there were more words. That there is theInternet version of the movie twist, an innovation I just pioneeredand which, I am certain, will amount to such a large royalty check forme I'll be able to retroactively retire three years ago. So long,suckers!

Well, turns out I'm still poor. You would think after the lastseveral years of constant exposure to crummy movie twists I'dunderstand how hard it is to pull one off, but you'd be wrong. That'swhy with a movie like Hancock — decent but unspectacular, butwith a twist that actually adds something to the movie — the temptationis to be overly impressed. Fortunately, I am utterly immune totemptations of all kinds, and no number of Tijuana brothels namedafter me can prove that claim wrong.

In Hancock, Will Smith is the world's only superhero, but he'snot exactly beloved. Drunk and antisocial, his crimefightingregularly causes millions in damage to the city of L.A., whosecitizens just about all wish he'd move somewhere else.

Meanwhile, Jason Bateman is a fantastic creature of a different kind: apublic relations man who wants to do good in the world. When Smithsaves his life (derailing a train in the process), Bateman comes upwith a plan to win the public's favor. Let the city arrest Smith forthe damage he's done. Let them remember how bad crime was before him. And in the meantime, try not to be such a jerk all the time.

That's how the first chunk of Hancock plays out, and that'swhat the ads made it look like it'd be about — Smith's a prick, Smithturns over new leaf, movie gets tame and boring as Smith learnsnewfound joys of responsibility and community service.

I'm speculating on that last part, but we all know it's true. In factresponsibility is horrid and dull, so TV and movies have to constantlysay it's great to prevent us from renaming the country Partyland andswitching over to an all-bourbon economy with beads for dollars andlime wedges for cents.

If the movie had gone the safe route, it probably would have beenenjoyable but forgettable, a chance for Smith to drink, swear, andtoss children around before human kindness reformed him to theultra-charming Will Smith we all know and love. Think a poor man'sBad Santa, where the humor's not as sharp, the sap's half againas thick, but with three or four times as many ass-beatings. DirectorPeter Berg shows the same deft hand with action he did in last year'sThe Kingdom.

But instead of the tried and true, the plot throws a knee-bucklingcurve ball that busts open the human and superhuman sides of Smith'smythology.

I've got a love-hate relationship with the genuine twist. I love thatthe filmmakers are willing to take a risk, but I hate that it makes mewake up, pay scrupulous attention, then pretend to make a reasoneddecision about whether the twist adds anything to the picture. Sodoes Hancock's work?

Yes and no. It's unexpected, it's interesting, it adds a dimension toa story that could have turned trite. But Hancock's problem isit overextends. It's like one of those one-man-band kits where theguy plays everything from the drums to the kazoo: at first it'sentertaining you in so many ways you just want to kidnap it and chainit up in your basement forever, but sooner or later, you realize youmay have been better off kidnapping a guy who's just a really goodkazooist rather than somebody who's trying to do everything at once.

Not to say it's not a good time. It's funny, and for all its zaggingplot, it keeps on moving. In a summer that's shaping up to be astrong one for blockbusters, it'll have a solid spot in that secondtier of movies worth seeing sometime, but maybe not right away.

Grade: B

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