Will Smith may well own the Fourth of July weekend at the multiplexes (thanks to "Independence Day," the "Men in Black" movies and others...

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Will Smith may well own the Fourth of July weekend at the multiplexes (thanks to “Independence Day,” the “Men in Black” movies and others), but “Hancock” is the equivalent of putting up a big For Sale sign. This sort-of-comedy about a sagging superhero has a few funny moments in its first half, but the rest of it is a mess — it almost feels as if the filmmakers stuck together the first half of one Will Smith movie and the second half of another. By midmovie, the comedy has melted away; as will, quite possibly, the audience once the weekend is over.

Director Peter Berg busily fills the film with handheld, jittery extreme close-ups (it’s like the world’s most expensive indie movie), but leaves out most of the fun. And that’s a shame, because there’s actually a pretty good premise here: Hancock (Smith) is a washed-up Los Angeles superhero who isn’t very good at his job. He doesn’t soar smoothly like Spider-Man or Superman, but lurches and weaves, getting entangled with passing flocks of birds. When he lands, his screeching heels rip up the concrete, leaving rubble in his wake. (“It was like that when I got here,” he deadpans to a disapproving spectator.) He drinks, he grumbles, he accidentally destroys cars and buildings. Nobody likes him.

Enter Ray (Jason Bateman), an earnest PR guy whom Hancock saves from an oncoming train (though not without destroying his car in the process). Grateful for the help, Ray wants to return the favor and thinks he can improve Hancock’s image. So begins a series of lessons on “interfacing with the public”: Smile, tell the cops they’re doing a good job, apologize for past mistakes. “People have to be happy that you’ve arrived,” Ray explains to a befuddled Hancock, who’s not entirely with the program — especially when he sees the extra-tight superhero uniform Ray’s dreamed up.

This isn’t bad stuff (Smith has one of the better deadpans in the business), and you can see a lot of glimpses of the offbeat comedy “Hancock” might have been — until Berg and writers Vy Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan abandon the funny stuff entirely, about midway through. Another plot kicks in, involving Ray’s wife (Charlize Theron) and the Dark Secret she’s been carrying around (which you’ll guess pretty much as soon as you see her), and soon the movie disappears entirely into an incoherent mess of gunshots, screaming and weird back story. The final third seems all shot in a strange blue light that makes even the gorgeous Theron look consumptive, and is, in a nutshell, no fun at all. Aren’t Fourth of July movies supposed to be fun? No fireworks this time, Will.

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Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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