2 out of 5

Directed by: Peter Berg

I realize that director Peter Berg, as a director, has earned some fans along the way, but everything I’ve seen by the guy moves in these very general sweeps of style that are neither satisfying enough in a popcorn sense or breezy enough to work as casual entertainment.  Berg’s films (that I’ve seen) carry some degree of awareness, but don’t use it to explore or dig into whichever genre in which the film is operating, leaving the movies curtailed of potential.

This happens to the superhero genre with Hancock, which half-jokingly, half-seriously approaches a ‘superhero in the real world’ scenario, humors it up with a Jason Bateman Arrested Development-type character, and then abandons any promise for the sake of taking it easy on the audience (make the character likeable!) and a twist that’s interesting, but not unexpected, and not at all logical.  The movie then lopes towards its endgame on top of these crumbled pieces, hoping to distract its way to a 90-minute mark.

Will Smith plays the titular Hancock, flipping between his unconvincing badass extreme variant – Hancock is a superpowered lout, able to leap tall buildings and outrace speeding bullets while drunk; swearing at bad guys and causing infinite property damage – and, when swept up in a PR plan by hopeful agent Ray (Bateman), his more soulful, reflective self.  In the movie’s shallow characterizations, this change is jarring and unmotivated; Smith is fantastic at doing the latter half of this personality, though (I never am able to buy him as a bad guy or tough; it’s always too obvious that he’s acting “cool”), and adds a lot of depth that’s not necessarily in the script, making this portion of the movie – Hancock’s redemption arc, as he learns to be a “proper” hero – acceptably engaging, just as his rambunctious antics in the first portion are enough to smirk at from afar.  But there’s no time for letting this positive sit and develop: there are twists and showdowns to get to.

Hancock absolutely has a valid premise: what happens when a superhero can’t deal with the responsibilities of being a superhero?  It sounds like this may have been more prevalent in Vy Vincent Ngo’s initial script, before Vince Gilligan (possibly) quirked it up to Hollywood acceptability.  And who knows, maybe on paper there are more pauses between the big, easy-to-understand blocks the movie waddles through.  Berg, directing that waddling, does a professional job: the intended emotions are clear; choreography and a sense of space are clear, and it’s crisply colored by Tobias A. Schliessler.  But it’s almost like it’s just interesting and intelligent enough to be disappointing when it turns out to not be all that interesting or intelligent.