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Hancock (PG-13) ***

Will Smith, right, and Jason Bateman are shown in a scene from the film, "Hancock." Photo: Frank Masi.
Will Smith, right, and Jason Bateman are shown in a scene from the film, "Hancock." Photo: Frank Masi.

By Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald

No one complains about collateral damage when Superman tries to confound Lex Luthor’s schemes. The residents of Gotham never file lawsuits against Batman if he bangs up a few cars in pursuit of the Joker. For Hancock, though, fighting crime is a different story, possibly because he tends to fly to the rescue clutching a bottle of whiskey.

Such is the engaging premise of Peter Berg’s enjoyable new film, which successfully mocks goofy superhero conventions while affectionately reveling in some of the best-loved clichés of the genre: the moody loner reluctant to wear the mask; the tight, garish costumes; the over-the-top battles. Even the running time is a neat 92 minutes, unlike the usual painful two hours-plus required by most films inspired by comic books.

But just as its title character isn’t a typical superhero, Hancock isn’t a typical superhero movie, and while its humor is sharp and its quirkiness delightful, it’s bound to earn shrugs from hardcore fanboys counting the days until the release of The Dark Knight. The rest of us will get a kick out of watching Will Smith as a bitter alcoholic with super strength, the ability to fly and a bad case of amnesia as to how he acquired these talents.

Hancock is also a thoughtless jerk, and he’s clumsy. Because he is usually drunk, he’s not exactly graceful in the air, causing millions of dollars in damage every time he takes flight. Neither the people of Los Angeles or their city officials applaud his reckless, theatrical rescues.

Then Hancock saves Ray (Jason Bateman), a bleeding-heart image consultant who insists on repaying the favor by sprucing up Hancock’s reputation — despite the fact that Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron) clearly has some issues with the enterprise.

The mythology behind Hancock’s identity is dispensed with swiftly; screenwriters Vince Gilligan (one of the best of the former X-Files writers) and Vincent Ngo don’t waste a lot of time on backstory, preferring instead to focus on a more intriguing question: If we’re strong, can we alter our fates? Really, though, Hancock is all about fun. Most of the action sequences are entertaining if not always original — one thunderous assault recalls the antics of Storm from the X-Men movies — and the climactic fight is downright understated.

Smith has long been the cinematic king of the Fourth of July weekend, and he hits some great comic notes as a lost boy and, eventually, a man struggling toward redemption. The real hit of the movie, though, is the hilarious Bateman (who also co-starred to great comic, then terrifying, effect in Berg’s The Kingdom). His low-key humor makes you wish Hancock could have saved Bateman’s short-lived sitcom Arrested Development. Now that would have been heroic.

Cast: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman

Director: Peter Berg

Screenwriters: Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan

Producers: Akiva Goldsman, James Lassiter, Michael Mann, Will Smith

A Sony Pictures release. Running time: 92 minutes. Intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language. Playing at area theaters.