Hancock: A Loutish Superhero Saves the Day

Picture a superhero whose enemy isn’t an octopus man or a giant spider but political correctness and you’ll have some idea of the cleverness that animates Hancock, a hip-hop superdude for our time.

Hancock, which stars Will Smith as a lazy, alcoholic, foul-mouthed lout who happens to fly, be impervious to bullets, and save lives when he can be bothered, essentially asks: what if Redd Foxx grew up on Krypton? (The irascible Foxx was a sort of black Archie Bunker on Sanford and Son, a 70s TV show whose theme song is deployed in a typically bawdy prison scene in this movie).

Watching Smith edge away from his clean-cut image and play a Rotten Prince makes the first half of Hancock consistently funny, although in its second half, a plot twist (which I won’t reveal or even hint at) takes the movie in an entirely different direction that isn’t completely satisfying, although it is interesting.

At the start, Hancock is a drunk who sleeps on benches in L.A. When a little kid arrives Jimmy Olsen-ishly to tell him about bad guys on the prowl, he takes in the information and makes it clear that the child is cramping his style. "Whachoo want? A cookie?" he asks.

Then Hancock flies off to capture the miscreants (every time he takes off or lands, he wrecks the street around him), picking up their car and slamming it into a skyscraper, with almost complete disregard for property. Hancock doesn’t appear to be licensed or insured to practice superheroism.

In addition to being the world’s leading cause of collateral damage, Hancock isn’t a very nice man. After meeting Ray, a PR consultant (Jason Bateman) who suggests that he needs a makeover, a superhero costume, and better relationships with the media, Hancock takes a look at what other super-powered folk are wearing. "What do you think of this one?" asks the PR man, holding up the cover of a comic book. "Homo," is Hancock’s verdict. Somebody lock this guy up and retrain him.

Locking Hancock up is exactly what society decides to do, and in this film -- directed by Peter Berg, who also made last fall’s film The Kingdom, about Americans and Arabs working together to foil terrorists in the Middle East -- the title character is the enemy of the people. He has a few hundred lawsuits pending against him for all of the stuff he’s wrecked.