Two ideas has Hancock. The first may be summed up in the term “anti-superhero,” or if you prefer it, “super-antihero.” The hero, that is to say, possesses the full complement of comic-book superpowers. Even though his takeoffs and landings leave divots in the earth, the asphalt, whatever, he’s faster than the proverbial speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Bullets aimed in his direction, meantime, might do damage to his cherished sunglasses (seemingly not, for some reason, to his clothes), but they bounce harmlessly off his hide. Without so much as bracing himself for impact or yielding an inch of ground, he can stop a full-speed train in — and on — its tracks, or at least the engine on its tracks, while the trailing cars jump the tracks in a jumble. He can throw a beached whale back into the ocean as easily as you or I could throw a minnow, accidentally toppling a clipper ship in the bargain. And oh, he is immortal, or at any rate has not aged a day in the eighty years since his bout of amnesia. (Who knows how much further back he goes?) But then the “anti-” bit comes into it, well beyond those divots in the earth, that jumble of train cars, that clipped clipper ship. He boozes round the clock. He goes days without shaving. He dresses like a slob if not a bum, rejecting the conventional superhero’s uniform as fit for a “homo.” He’s surly, rude, profane. Yet his impregnable skin turns thin at the epithet of “asshole,” resulting in the uniquely ugly retaliation of shoving one man’s head literally up another man’s ass. Why he bestirs himself to pursue criminals is not apparent, but he never worries about collateral damage in the course of that pursuit, knocking down freeway signs, piling up cop cars, taking chunks out of skyscrapers, racking up a $9 million repair bill in just the film’s opening chase scene. The personality, in short, of an above-the-law pro athlete or rock star.
The second idea cannot be divulged. It could perhaps be divulged to the extent of hinting that it has something to do with the anti-superhero’s origin and history, and that it doesn’t come to light till well after the plot turn whereby he saves the life of an altruistic PR man who, in gratitude, offers to remake the hero’s image, invites him home to his favorite meal of meatballs, introduces him to wife and son, and so on: “I’m going to teach you to interface with the public.” To cast the likable Will Smith in the lead role of the film and to release it at the Fourth of July — a hallowed tradition dating back to Independence Day — does not quite count as an idea unto itself, especially because, if in fact it were an idea, it would be negated by the folly of casting him in a role that thoroughly squelches his likability. Nor does it count as an idea to have kept Charlize Theron (the wife of the PR man, Jason Bateman) out of the pre-release publicity, out of the coming-attractions trailer, out of sight: that, needless to say, is external to the film proper. Nor, finally, is the big surprise of the movie the mere fact that Charlize Theron now looks like the second coming of Britt Ekland, thanks no doubt to the usual Hollywood magic of Diet, Exercise, and a New Hairdo. Since I didn’t know beforehand that she would be in the movie, I honestly did not know it was her I was looking at till I spotted the mole on her throat. (Charlize Theron may qualify as a movie star nowadays, but I must say I’ve never had a similar difficulty recognizing Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Gene Tierney, Ava Gardner.) The so-called second idea, moreover, is not really worth divulging. Nothing more, for that matter, is really worth divulging, if only because of the decision — the bad idea — the anti-idea — to sign up Peter Berg as the director, bringing to this juvenile fantasy the same cinéma-vérité affectations he brought to the ripped-from-the-headlines terrorist thriller, The Kingdom, or to the football docudrama, Friday Night Lights, the same jiggly, wavery, zoomy camerawork, the same pushy, tight, tunnel-vision closeups. To put a movie in his hands is to put it in very shaky hands indeed. Never mind a summer blockbuster, Peter Berg could not be entrusted to shoot a child’s birthday party.
WALL-E, a Disney computer cartoon written and directed by Andrew Stanton (his first time as solo director), is worth seeing for the prefixed Presto, a slam-bang short subject about a growling-stomached rabbit who, within the seven-minute framework of an old Warners’ Looney Tune, turns a magic act against his mustachioed master until his hunger is finally satisfied. After the short, everything is gravy, albeit only a spoonful or two. (Don’t come late.) The feature proves to be relentlessly sentimental science fiction about a cute anthropomorphized “male” robot — a rattletrap contraption of binoculars atop tank treads — programmed to pick up garbage on an evacuated Earth in the 28th Century (his name is an acronym of Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-Class), all alone on the planet but for the company of an indestructible cockroach, until his world gets rocked by the arrival of a smooth white egg-shaped “fembot,” whom he follows up to a mother ship of epicene, spineless, walrus-like humans. Rather remarkable for any movie are the long stretches of nonverbal narrative, reminiscent of the opening and closing stretches of 2001. (Other allusions to the Kubrick classic — the musical snippet from Also Sprach Zarathustra, the unblinking red eye of HAL-9000 — suggest the emulation is entirely conscious.) No less remarkable, in the context of a kiddie cartoon, are the distinctive whiffs of post-apocalyptic and dystopian melancholy. The happy ending pretty much ruins it.
War, Inc., co-written by Mark Leyner, Jeremy (Bulworth) Pikser, and producer-star John Cusack, and directed by Joshua Seftel, is a topical satire on privatized warfare in the Middle East, “satire” being defined as a fictional form that depends on your political sympathies overriding your aesthetic standards. Even if your sympathies are in perfect alignment, however, this one seems a complete misfire, resorting to fisheye lenses for comic emphasis, mock-Morricone spaghetti-Western music, more or less straight action scenes, John Cusack’s smugness, Joan Cusack’s shrillness, Ben Kingsley’s sliminess, Dan Aykroyd’s biliousness, and Hilary Duff’s duff. (She, a whittled-down pussy willow, has her nerve mouthing a line of dialogue that brands a mature womanly woman as a “skinny bitch.”) Through the wreckage wanders Marisa Tomei as a semblance of a human being. This actress (the aforesaid “skinny bitch”) is both lucky and good: lucky enough to be playing the only role which remotely resembles a human being (liberal journalist) and good enough actually to resemble one when given the chance.