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Jason Bateman’s the real hero of ‘Hancock’

While the idea of a drunken and misanthropic superhero getting a P.R. makeover is certainly a promising one, “Hancock” mishandles the opportunity horribly.

While the idea of a drunken and misanthropic superhero getting a P.R. makeover is certainly a promising one, “Hancock” mishandles the opportunity horribly. No expense was evidently spared on special effects, but it’s too bad the script didn’t get a similar level of TLC.

Will Smith stars as the powerful title character who can fly, deflect bullets and knives, and generally does whatever a superhero does. His propensity for damaging public property and being rude to everyone who gets near him, however, makes him universally despised among humanity, no matter how effectively he fights crime.

One day, Hancock rescues public relations man Ray (Jason Bateman), who decides to return the favor by fixing Hancock’s dreadful public image. Ray teaches him to say “Good job” to police and fire personnel, to take off and land without leaving a giant crater, and even convinces Hancock to serve jail time for his various misdemeanors, knowing that the authorities will release him when they need him.

And need him they do, when a hostage crisis breaks out in downtown Los Angeles, giving Hancock the opportunity to debut his new, improved self. If you’ve seen the trailers for the movie, you probably think that this is the entire film, but it’s really just the first half. The remainder, unfortunately, turns very messy and unfocused, as we find out that Hancock doesn’t remember who he is or where his powers come from. Enter Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron), who winds up knowing more about Hancock than she originally lets on.

While it would have been a bold choice to make a character-based comedy about superheroes, “Hancock” shows no such daring, so we eventually get the big clash-of-the-titans fight scene on Hollywood Boulevard, followed by the bad-guys-try-to-get-revenge business. (The latter, incidentally, leads to a rather violent confrontation toward the end of the film that parents might not want their younger kids to watch.) Initially, it seems like “Hancock” is going to have some fun with the superhero paradigm, but this dark, muddled and tedious noise machine winds up being an inferior copy of that genre’s highlights.

Not helping matters is the casting of Will Smith in the lead role — his off-camera propensity to always look like he’s running for office makes it difficult to buy him in the role of an alcoholic jerk, and he never fully commits to the character’s innate unpleasantness. In the hands of a more fearless performer, Hancock would be simultaneously loathsome and charming, but Smith just makes him a minor irritant.

The only great thing about “Hancock” is Bateman, who also stole the show in director Peter Berg’s previous film, “The Kingdom.” The character may be a wide-eyed idealist, but the actor finds both the laughs and the soul of this do-gooder. Whether or not that long-promised “Arrested Development” movie ever gets made, here’s hoping the right role will come along to give Bateman some much deserved front-and-center time.