July 24, 2008 by  

Continuing the summer’s tradition of superhero movies, this one features something a little different. First, one of my favorite actors of this age, Will Smith–a blockbuster king, a likable guy, and his range, though sorely underused most of the time, is not to be disregarded. In this case, however, he does not exactly play a “likable guy”.

So let’s talk “Hancock”. This film is not adapted from a graphic novel. It is not based on an old comic book series created by Stan Lee. It’s not an old Greek mythology story that’s been updated. No, “Hancock” has one thing going for it that many recent summer blockbusters don’t: It’s an original screenplay.

Not to say the story hasn’t been done before, but the script was written back in 1996 by a Vincent Ngo, about a conflicted superhero and his relationship with a 12 year old boy. Not exactly the same movie we have here. And like most original screenplays, unfortunately, they don’t turn out to be little fairy tales like the Stripper turned Screenwriter, Diablo Cody. Poor Vincent Ngo doesn’t get to have the Oscar buzz, or the Academy Award, or all the accolades. He gets a paycheck, which is nice…he also gets to watch his screenplay ultimately disfigured to the point of nonrecognition. This isn’t a rarity in Hollywood. Cody’s story is.

No, what we have here is a film, originally titled “Tonight, He Comes”, toiling over how to end itself, how to resolve act II, and what we end up with is…as best as I can put it…a mildly entertaining mess.
In the beginning, we have an alcoholic superhero who doesn’t care about tearing up LA (thankfully *NOT* NYC this time, but it was hinted at) while catching bad guys, not caring that most people hate him. But when he saves the life of a PR guru (Jason Bateman) who tries to get him to straighten up his act because deep down there is good in him.

Nice story so far. Some very funny early scenes as well. Now take that first 50 minutes, and put it in a blender…and you get the rest of the film. There is a twist that is so unbearably inevitable that once it’s revealed, it not only changes the face of the film, and the theme, but it turns the film into an absolute joke itself. It’s one of the drawbacks of taking an original screenplay of a high concept idea and NOT giving it backstory until the third act. NOBODY cares by then. And, there isn’t enough time to get the audience to believe in it. Not only that, but it completely abandons the “bad superhero turned into good guy superhero” story that it sets up so much in the trailer.

I won’t give the twist away, but now that you know there is one, I guarantee within 5 minutes of watching the movie, you will know what it is. And I have to at least let it slip that there is a twist because the entire ending of the movie depends on it, and that’s my biggest problem with the film.

This is why I mention the screenplay so much. It’s almost as if you can see the four drafts of the script (the final was credited to former “X-Files” writer, Vince Gilligan) right in front of your eyes as the movie progresses. In the first twenty minutes you probably have Ngo’s original idea. In the next half hour you have the seedlings of someone else’s hands in the dough. By the end, you probably wouldn’t recognize the first twenty minutes of the film anymore because the movie is completely different.

It’s a shame because the movie was very ambitiously directed by a guy I really like, Peter Berg. And it was extremely well acted by Smith, the beautiful Charlize Theron, and Bateman. There were some very funny moments, and even some touching ones. But once the arbitrary plot is revealed, a lot of it slips away, and you wind up being bewildered by the bad special effects and wondering why you are watching this film at all anymore.

I guess it’s just one of those typical Hollywood stories. I wonder where this Ngo guy is right now. If you look him up on IMDB, he’s not doing anything screenwriting related. The thing that irks me about things like this is, that this movie will most likely disappear once “The Dark Knight” comes out (NOT an original screenplay) and Hollywood execs will most likely use this as another excuse not to take a chance on a spec or some other weird, original idea–and keep it safe with comic book and pop novel fiction adaptations. And people like Ngo, and others who have creative ideas out there…will once again be relegated to having to watching drivel on the big screen, rather than contributing something that at least makes you feel like you’re watching something worthwhile.

My rating: :???:

Family value: Not for kids under the age of 14 unless you are very trustworthy of them and know that they won’t mimick Hancock’s dirty mouth.


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