Film Friday: ‘Hancock’ & ‘Kit Kittredge’

by W. Andrew Powell


Will Smith as Hancock

Most of the film studios backed up this week, giving room for one of the big debuts of the summer: Will Smith starring as the handsomely unlikeable hero Hancock. Aside from his scruffy face, the only other big debut is the family movie Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, which stars Abigail Breslin as the sweet, adventurous writer.

The Hollywood playbook for superhero movies has one key characteristic in bold type on the first page: the hero has to be flawed. Superman is one of the few heroes who arrived on-screen without any character faults, but director Peter Berg takes the whole idea of imperfection in a champion to new levels with one of the most drunken, abusive, and yet compelling heroes this year.

Will Smith stars as the perpetually sloshed Hancock, a bullet-proof hero who will come to save the day when the bad guys are running rampant around the city, but you just have to be prepared for a little property damage. In the opening sequence Hancock, who is dressed like a hobo, stops a car full of gun-totting thugs, only to cause millions of dollars worth of damage as he overreacts, rips up the freeway, and tosses a car on top of a Los Angeles monument.

Hancock wants to do good, but his somewhat good intentions are flawed with self-pity, and complete carelessness in nearly every action he makes.

Enter good-meaning PR executive Ray, played by Jason Bateman. Hancock saves Ray’s life, and in return Ray pledges himself to the hero’s cause, offering his services to give Hancock a better reputation after years of flawed heroics. The problem is convincing Hancock to change, but after a public outcry and a warrant being issued for his arrest, he agrees to try to be a better hero for the city.

What follows however is a chance for Hancock to rediscover his real identity, which he lost a long time ago after he woke up in a hospital with no memory and a cracked skull. Within hours of waking, Hancock’s wounds healed on their own, but he never recovered his memory, or found out why no one came to claim him at the hospital.

The film is set apart by another fantastic performance by Smith, and an enjoyable side-kick routine by Bateman, who injects some much-needed levity into some otherwise dark scenes. Charlize Theron as Ray’s wife Mary is likewise a treat, although her part in the film ushers in a strange second-half of the film which nearly sinks all the great elements that make the first half of the movie work.

Berg’s attempt to change the hero story works for the most part in Hancock, but the biggest flaw is that the script changes too dramatically for the third act, and loses a lot of the momentum it had built up early in the film. I can’t imagine why the filmmakers chose to change things up so much in the latter-half of the film, or why they didn’t try a little harder to explain Hancock’s origins properly, but the result is an epically uneven storyline.

It’s also notable that Hancock is actually quite a brooding adventure that gets mightily misrepresented by pretty much every trailer that was released. Action-hungry teens looking for laughs and explosions may feel ripped off by the huge dramatic elements, while everyone else may wonder how the dumb finale snuck its way into the script.

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
Based on the American Girl series of toys and books, Kit Kittredge is the first film adaptation of this popular tweenage brand. Directed by Patricia Rozema, and starring Little Miss Sunshine‘s Abigail Breslin as Kit, the film is a historic adventure set in the 1930s-era Cincinnati, and also stars Chris O’Donnell, Julia Ormond, Joan Cusack, and Stanley Tucci.

Kit is an aspiring writer, with a big group of friends and a happy life, until her father (O’Donnell) is forced to leave town to find work elsewhere. Trying to do the best they can without him, Kit and her mother (Ormond) take in boarders to help cover expenses, which brings in an assortment of weirdoes including a librarian (Cusack) and a magician (Tucci).

After a number of robberies around town, including at the Kittredge home, Kit teams up with her friends to find out who is behind the thefts, and what she can do to save her house from foreclosure.

Critics are giving Kit Kittredge great reviews, commenting on the film’s values, and depictions of a harsh time in American history while offering a truly fun family film. “Plucky, likable and determined to succeed, much like its heroine, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is a throwback to the kinds of movies they don’t make anymore,” Lael Loewenstein of Variety said.

Coming to theatres – July 11:
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Meet Dave

Film Friday is a weekly syndicated column produced by The GATE for print and online and examining the latest new arrivals coming to cinemas, with reviews, or a look at the critical consensus on each movie.

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