A fun, fairly crisp opening hour gives way to a muddled, entirely unsatisfying ending in the action-comedy Hancock, which finds Will Smith starring as a sullen superhero trying to win over the population of Los Angeles via a very public makeover. Delivering very much more in personable half measures than in thrilling fashion on its actual premise, Smith's first summer entry in four years — coming on the heels of his biggest Stateside hit in more than a decade in the form of last December's I Am Legend — should own the box office for a week-plus after its July 2 opening, but face stiff sci-fi action competition when Guillermo Del Toro's Hellboy II bows the following week.

When we first meet Hancock, who's awakened to stop some fleeing bad guys shooting up a highway, he's swigging bourbon from a bottle and blowing his nose on his hand — hardly the behavior audiences have come to expect from Smith. Disgruntled, sarcastic and misunderstood, Hancock gets the job done, but his heroics often leave a trail of enormous municipal damage in their wake. After being saved by Hancock, public relations executive Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) pitches his rescuer on an image rehabilitation. He advises Hancock to turn himself in on an outstanding bench warrant for his arrest, hypothesizing that a needy public will appreciate his act of penance and also come to recognize and more fully appreciate his indispensability. Begrudgingly, Hancock acquiesces. While Ray's young son idolizes Hancock, even in his imprisoned state, Ray's wife Mary (Charlize Theron) seems to regard him much more cautiously.

When Hancock finally is summoned from jail, he foils a bank robbery that looks like it was staged by guys who might have watched Heat one time too many (perhaps too overt of a tip of the cap by director Peter Berg, given that producer Michael Mann also cameos in the film). Hancock also inadvertently starts learning a bit more about his past, of which he has heretofore had no recollection.

Hancock gets by for the bulk of its running time on the relative strength of its character, which allows Smith both to display his roguish charm and play against type, as squinty, pained and reticent. Hancock's truly fatal miscalculation, however, comes in its final third, when the script tries to get into its protagonist's past, but ends up peddling all sorts of incongruous information. Outright baffling choices mark the last 30-35 minutes of the movie, even if its special effects work mostly sings and zings. For the full original review, from Screen International, click here. (Sony/Columbia, PG-13, 92 minutes)


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