American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
I have been waiting for this for years: a superhero movie where the actions of the superheroes have consequences in the real world. They always leave a wake of crashed cars, bursting fire hydrants, exploding gas stations and toppling bridges behind them and never go back to clean up. But John Hancock, the hero of “Hancock,” doesn’t get away with anything. One heroic stunt ran up a cost price tag of $7 million, he’s got hundreds of lawsuits pending, and when he saves a stranded whale by throwing it back into the sea, you can bet he gets billed for the yacht it lands on.
“Hancock,” the latest star showcase for Will Smith, has him playing a SkidRow drunk with superpowers and a super hangover. He does well, but there are always consequences, like when he saves a man whose car is about to be struck by a train, but causes a train wreck. What he needs is a good PR man. Luckily, the man whose life he saved is exactly that. He’s Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman, the adoptive father in “Juno”), and Ray has a brainstorm: He’ll repay Hancock by giving him a complete image makeover. If this sounds like a slapstick comedy, strangely enough, it isn’t. The movie has a lot of laughs, but Smith avoids playing Hancock as a goofball and shapes him as serious, thoughtful and depressed.
Embrey the PR whiz brings Hancock home to dinner to meet his wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), and son Aaron (Jae Head). The first time she meets him, Mary gives Hancock an odd, penetrating look. Also the second time and also the third time. OK, OK, already: We get it. One odd, penetrating look after another. They have some kind of a history, but Hancock doesn’t know about it, and Mary’s not talking.
She has a lot to keep quiet about, although thank goodness, she eventually opens up or the movie wouldn’t have a second half. I will not reveal what she says, of course, because her surprise is part of the fun. I am willing to divulge some of the setup, with Ray coaching Hancock to start saying “thank you” and “you did a good job here,” and stop flying down out of the sky and crushing $100,000 cars. Ray also gets him a makeover: Gone is the flophouse wardrobe, replaced by a slick gold leather costume, and Hancock gets a shave, too. Does it himself, with his fingernails.