LOS ANGELES - Will, Will, Will, baby! You need to branch out. You can’t play the nice guy all the time. You can’t always be admirable, virtuous and principled. You can’t be Robert Redford. Yeah, you were a little gloomy in “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Unemployment? Definitely bad juju. But you were also dragging that kid all over town. No, no, listen: You’re the world’s biggest movie star, man. People are gunning for you. You have to go bad to keep things good.
So here’s the deal: How’s about you play an angry, destructive, homeless, alcoholic amnesiac?
What? Yeah, OK. You can have super powers.
Is it a deal?
Whatever it is, it’s “Hancock,” the strange spacey movie expected to be a summer blockbuster, directed by Peter Berg and starring Will Smith as the above-described hero - nasty, boozy and unbathed. Bring the family! And bring an appetite for computer-generated destruction. The fun starts Wednesday.
Actually, it was Smith who helped bring the project to the screen, having been given the script three years ago by Akiva Goldsman and Michael Mann (who along with Smith and James Lassiter became producers on the film). It took a few years for the stars, and planets, to become aligned. It also took a few adjustments to the script.
“The original draft by Vincent Ngo was really dark,” Berg said. “A scathing character study of this suicidal alcoholic superhero. It was like ‘Leaving Las Vegas.’ For real - if Nic Cage was able to fly, it was in that zone.
“We thought the idea was cool, but we did want to lighten it up. We all did.”
What they ended up with is the story of John Hancock, faster than a speeding bullet, etc., etc., whose ungainly exploits around Los Angeles have been costing the city millions. Every time he lands, he makes a pothole. When he flies, it’s like somebody set off an 80-proof unguided missile - instead of leaping tall buildings, he punches holes in them. And he doesn’t really think things through (probably because he’s snarfing down half-gallons of bourbon). Instead of simply flying a car out of the way of an oncoming train, he stops the train - derailing the whole mess and destroying the locomotive in the process. When he wants to subdue a car full of bandits, he sticks his feet through the floorboard, a la Fred Flintstone. He’s a menace. And the city has had enough.
But while “Hancock” is intended as a character-driven film - the other characters include Ray ( Jason Bateman), a good-hearted publicist who wants to help change Hancock’s image, and Ray’s wife, Mary ( Charlize Theron) - the CG effects are going to dominate the discussion. This is somewhat problematic for a director like Berg, the former actor (“Chicago Hope,” “The Last Seduction”) turned director (“Friday Night Lights”) and a filmmaker seemingly disinclined to hand things over to the computer guys - who, in his words, made him think “‘Revenge of the Nerds’ on steroids.”
“There’s a big CG fight between two characters,” Berg said, not wanting to give too much away, “and that was probably my least favorite part of the film. Once the fight starts, you’re very limited and you’re at the mercy of your effects guys. I’m sure most directors will tell you, unless they’re really technically oriented, that it’s definitely the time we have the least amount of control as directors.”
Still, he said he doesn’t feel, as some might, that computers are killing the human element in big-budget movies. Something Smith’s career has been all about.
“I think if you look at ‘Iron Man,’ what made it so successful wasn’t the big CG fight at the end. It was the interesting character stuff with (Robert) Downey at the beginning. We kept cutting our fight scene down because none of us was particularly interested in it. What we love is the idea of the characters. But I don’t feel technology is threatening the character, even in these big-budget films. We’re seeing Ed Norton, Will Smith, Downey, three Oscar-nominated actors, all wanting to do this. And it’s good for the industry.”
Whether it is, in fact, good for the industry remains to be seen. “Hancock” is a Will Smith movie, and a computer movie. If audiences don’t like it, they may start looking differently at both of them.
A WILL AND A WAY WITH HITS
Will Smith’s streak of box-office hits is sure to continue with “Hancock.” Starting with the top moneymaker, here’s the worldwide box-office grosses of his past six films:
“I Am Legend” 2007 $584 million
“Men in Black II” 2002 $442 millilon
“Hitch” 2002 $367 million
“I Robot” 2004 $348 million
“The Pursuit of Happyness” 2006 $305 million
“Bad Boys II” 2003 $273 million