by ED SYMKUS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he new Will Smith film is a winner all the way -- a fresh, exciting, funny (sometimes not so funny), eye-popping skewering of every superhero movie that's come before it.

Here we've got John Hancock (Will Smith) -- shabbily dressed, rude and crude, most often drunk to the point somewhere between wavering and passing out. And, oh yeah, he can fly, he's incredibly strong, and bullets bounce off him. Trouble is, even though he does set his sights on beating the bad guys and protecting the public, he usually leaves such a path of destruction and vulgarity behind him that citizens are not-so-slowly turning on him, wishing him elsewhere.

What an odd premise for a comedy, if indeed this mostly funny movie can properly be called a comedy. More on that later.

When Hancock saves slick but well-intentioned PR guy Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) from certain death at a railroad crossing (inadvertently causing a pileup of train cars to boot), he's invited home for dinner, much to the delight of his young boy Aaron (Jae Head) and to the dismay of his wife, Mary (Charlize Theron, glowingly beautiful in the part).

Though Mary finds this loser to be repugnant, Ray, calling himself an image consultant, wants to help him, wants people not to hate him, wants him to understand how to relate to everyday folks.

It's here that the film and its story start to take unexpected turns -- none of which will be revealed here. It's OK to know that Hancock is directionless, lost, miserable, literally alone in the world. There's also no problem in knowing that he's persuaded to repent for the probably millions of dollars of damage he's caused while sloppily foiling villains. He becomes convinced -- like some citizen approaching a voting booth next fall -- that change is in order, and that only he can do it.

But whew! He gets a lot more change than he bargained for. While the film just explodes with startling and funny state-of-the-art visual effects -- some involving flying, others giving a new meaning to demolition -- the story turns out to be one about well-kept secrets and family relationships and philosophical discussions about fate versus choice. The wild comedy of the first half of the film turns into something else later on, and there's no resemblance between the two halves' tones.

Hancock is far from being just a display of special effects and shifting moods. There's some fine acting going on here. It's one of Smith's strangest roles: a confused guy struggling to live with a load of pent-up inner turmoil. It's one of Bateman's best: a tireless professional who keeps working and working, no matter that it's against impossible odds. Theron's terrific performance can be summed up in the moment her Mary meets Hancock: There's something going on in her eyes. Is it the same negative feeling she's sharing with the rest of the public, or is it something else?

I'm not telling. But it's fine to disclose my favorite line of dialogue in the film. At one point near the end, one character turns to another and yells, "You better not hit me with that truck!" Let it be known: No one is driving at the time.


Rated PG-13

Directed by Peter Berg

Starring Will Smith, Jason Bateman, Charlize Theron

Palouse Cult Film Revival: Little Shop of Horrors @ The Kenworthy

Wed., Feb. 8, 7:30-9:30 p.m.
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