When is a superhero not a superhero? When he's a crude, dirty alcoholic. And when is a 15 not a 15? When it's been edited heavily to get the more box office-friendly 12A... Both are true of Hancock, a mostly enjoyable concept film that goes off in an unexpected direction. It's a shame then that the makers don't seem to quite know what to do with their impressive twist.
John Hancock (Smith), as his everyman name suggests, is the anonymous superhero who regularly saves Los Angeles and its citizens from danger — but at some considerable cost. He may have forgotten his name some 80 years before, but there's a good chance that his middle name is "collateral damage" rather than "danger". His drunken attempts to clean up the city end up costing millions and the people are clamouring for him to go. This is the point in Hancock's "career" where his path crosses with Ray (Bateman), a much put-upon but decent PR man on his own charitable mission to save the world. When Hancock saves Ray from certain death, Ray decides to thank Hancock with some professional advice: a little spin-doctoring to up Hancock's profile, improve his image and generally stop his fellow citizens hating him. As Ray's advice works, Hancock cleans up his act and discovers some interesting aspects of his past — which we can't tell you, as we're not about the spoilers. What we can tell you, however, is that Red (Marsan), one of the more violent thugs Hancock has put away, is hell-bent on revenge and has broken out of prison.
There are a number of plus points about Hancock. The concept is a peach, the leads are excellent and, for once, the trailer neither contains all the best moments nor does it let the twist out of the bag. The downside though is that, as mentioned above, while the makers deserve a pat on the back for the concept and the twist, they don't appear to know how to marry the two. Accordingly, while Hancock remains entertaining and full of surprises, it also feels like two distinctly separate movies and those family-friendly cuts (rumours abound of a superhero-proportioned shagging scene) feel rather obvious. It thus gets four stars for the first half, two stars for the second, and a three as average. Roll on the "uncut" DVD then?