'Hancock' overcomes his own disinterest

The premise of "Hancock" (Rated PG-13) is filled with possibilities. If you've seen the trailer you know that Hancock, aka Will Smith, is a man with superhero abilities, not unlike the man of steel: able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, faster than a speeding bullet or a locomotive. In fact, he is superman, with a personality disorder. Hancock is a lazy alcoholic who isn't interested in using his super powers for truth, justice and the American way, or having his drunken stupor interrupted by a crisis such as a police chase or a bank robbery.

When he does rally himself to get off his park bench, he's cranky. Think of his flying around as the equivalent of a DUI, only it would amount to flying under the influence. Usually, his interventions result in extreme collateral damage, to the point that he city would prefer he stay home. He is scruffy, bleary-eyed, and looks like he's homeless though he lives in two house trailers on a hilltop overlooking Los Angeles.

To summarize, Hancock is the anti-superhero. A man possessing remarkable gifts who is content to shine most of life on. Not to forget that he could use some anger management work or a 10-step program. A bit of therapy once or twice a week, just to look at a few issues, wouldn't hurt. Hancock does have issues.

As a concept, a superhero who's having an existential crisis and isn't interested in getting over it has potential. Of course, Superman suffers from loneliness, wishing to hook up with Lois Lane; Spider-Man is alienated from his peers and is never comfortable in his Spidy suit; Batman broods darkly in a cave, unsure of his role in the life of Gotham City. All struggle with identity issues. But all transcend their abiding angst and use their powers for good.

Hancock isn't interested. When he meets Ray (Jason Bateman), an advertising executive, Ray insists he can transform Hancock's image. It's a hard sell at first, but finally, reluctantly, Hancock relents, even agreeing to do jail time for his destructive behavior. And it's at this point that the film loses its way and act three seems rushed and contrived. Hancock was far more interesting when he was feeling isolated and suffering from chronic ennui.

This film bears the summer blockbuster signature: it's CGI-driven while the actors work very hard to make their presence known. Charlize Theron, a superb actor, portrays Ray's wife, Mary, and has some of the best scenes with Hancock. But even Theron can't overcome what eventually turns out to be a weak screenplay.

But no worries. "Hancock" will draw moviegoers in huge numbers purely on the strength of Will Smith's name. He is now synonymous with the Hollywood summer mega-movie, harking back to "Independence Day" which broke on the Fourth of July 12 years ago.

Smith, however, is also a good dramatic actor and could have embraced the character of the unreconstructed Hancock, creating someone of depth and interest. Recall the work that Smith did in "Pursuit of Happyness," with some good moments in "Hitch." But when you're a superhero, the fans will only cut you so much personal slack and then it's time to get back to expectations. Which Hancock delivers with a vengeance.

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

"Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" (Rated G) is a winner of a movie. Tween girls will love this film and perhaps be inspired by Kit, played by Abagail Breslin, famous for her spot-on role in "Little Miss Sunshine." Breslin is a perfect fit for Kit and hopefully this will be the beginning of a franchise for her.

Kit's character is nicely set up in the first half of the film. She's a nice kid, and a devoted writer and journalist who is not above taking her copy to the Cincinnati local newspaper and pitching her stories. She's also surrounded by a circle of friends who hang out in a tree house, take vows of loyalty, and feel secure in their insulated childhood.

However, the film is set during the Great Depression and before long the hard economic times begin to intrude. Foreclosure signs go up on Kit's street and kids in her school are suddenly being turned out of their homes. Hoboes are riding the rails and living in camps on the outskirts of town and blamed for most things lawless. Even Kit's father (Chris O'Donnell) must leave for Chicago in search of work; a wrenching experience for Kit who is close to him and anguished over his departure.

To survive, Kit's mother (Julia Ormand) takes in boarders, raises chickens, sews, and cuts every economical corner possible. Nothing about this time period is sugarcoated in the film and the girls in the audience will sense the desperation of those who found themselves living during some of America's most difficult times.

The second half of the film becomes a light mystery, never violent, even comedic. Kit and her friends set out to solve a burglary by assembling the evidence and pondering the suspects. Kit is courageous and resilient and, of course, the ending is nicely put together. Sentimental to be sure, but not saccharine. All in all this is a well done film for the tween crowd who often don't get quality movies starring excellent actors.

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