Sunday, July 6, 2008


Another comic book hero movie. Only this one is more fun than the other recent ones.

Few actors have Robert Downey Jr.’s chops, or Ed Norton’s for that matter. But Will Smith has had movie star charisma from the get go, for reasons that have to do with mysteries that haven’t been solved yet in his—and similarly difficult to explain adequately—case(s).

I mean Denzel Washington’s handsomeness and cool presence has always generated the kind of charisma most common among stars, that deep sexiness coupled with a sense of danger and power.

Others not so handsome but with such a magnetic screen presence and unique acting power, say Tommy Lee Jones, are also easier to explain, in terms of their stardom.

Will Smith, despite his height and generally handsome features (Clark Gable had ears as big after all) is not as obvious a star as Denzel or amazing an actor as Tommy Lee.

To my mind, Smith is more in the line of movie stars like Mickey Rooney or Jimmy Durante, who both had a kind of childlike appeal that, despite their sometime ham-iness and obvious desire to be liked, make them often irresistible to audiences.

I know I know, Mickey Rooney now often seems to be trying too hard in the movies he made when young, but that’s only in retrospect, at the time he was the most successful and most loved star of his time, as Will Smith may well be for these, or close to it.

Durante wasn’t as big a star as Rooney or Smith, if he is even considered one (though he did carry a few Hollywood movies as the lead) but even now, his appeal is obvious.

None of these guys look like your typical movie star, but they managed to be very successful at it—partly because they’re so likeable, something they obviously try hard to be—so hard, audiences give in.

Rooney eventually played a few bad guys later in life, at times very successfully, but essentially, especially when he was still king of the box office, he played guys who were upbeat, decent and lovable, while also being vulnerable, fallible, “normal” human beings. Durante never played a bad guy, as far as I know. Nor has Smith, really.

HANCOCK is as close as he’s gotten in some ways. Unlike the Hulk’s bad guy induced rage, or other comic book film heroes with various human failings in their human form, Hancock is a truly flawed human being AND super hero.

The movie is about, naturally, his redemption. The plot is too comic booky, and the fight scenes are pretty much what we’ve been getting for a while now from computer tricks to qualify as anything unique for this genre.

But what IS unique is that the super hero is an alcoholic! The story implies this is a result of Hancock’s having no idea who he is or how he got his powers, and feeling not only all alone and misunderstood, but angry about all that.

Less unique, in fact pretty common for this genre are the simplistic stabs at philosophy and psychology, Hancock is not only redeemed and transformed from the surly resentful drunk he starts out as—which Smith still can’t keep from making appealing—to the kind of selfless do-gooder we have come to expect our comic book heroes to be.

Some of the cinematography is pretty unique too. Not all the scenes, but a few, especially the most personal, evoke comic book frames of close ups of a face partially blocked out by the framing or the blur of another body or object not quite defined, etc. in ways that have rarely if ever been seen in a contemporary movie, if at all, and aren’t always flattering to Smith (though it doesn’t diminish Charlize Theron’s movie star beauty or usual on-the-mark acting).

Another thing that made HANCOCK a pretty enjoyable experience for me is Smith’s acting. I don’t think he’s a great film actor, but I do think he’s a great movie star who can really act well.

He makes Hancock seem as troubled as the plot insists he is (and as many contemporary comic book to movie super heroes seem to be) at least most of the time (sometimes it’s more obviously Will Smith just being a movie star). And in those moments, he evokes real sympathy for Hancock and his situation.

But basically, the movie is a mash of the fish-out-of-water-super-hero-adolescent-jokes-from-grown-man-with-childlike-appeal-bad-boy-redeemed-by-selfless-love-abridged-classic-myths-and-story-lines-good-guys-vs.-bad-guys-computerized-special-effects-oversimplication. But it kinda works.

1 comment:

d. walls said...

are you excited about 'the dark knight?' god knows i am.