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"Hancock" has a terrific action-hero premise, a nifty plot twist halfway through, and the always-charming presence of Will Smith. What could go wrong?

Plenty. "Hancock" is a mess, a seven-car pile-up of conflicting ideas and storylines, overloaded with effects and painted with an unappetizing layer of handheld-camera grit.

Smith plays John Hancock, who is imbued with incredible superpowers and a singularly stinking attitude. He will stagger drunkenly into action against L.A.'s criminals, but his clumsy heroics - like spearing a street gang's SUV on the spire of the Capitol Records building - cause as much damage as the crooks he pursues.

When Hancock saves the life of an idealistic P.R. man, Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), Ray offers to return the favor by improving Hancock's public image. Ray's plan calls for Hancock to turn himself in to the authorities, serve a short prison stretch, get a little rehab, and wait until the city needs him to clean up crime. Hancock is dubious of Ray's plan, as is Ray's loving wife Mary (Charlize Theron).

It's around about here that the script, by Vy Vincent Ngo ("Hostage") and Vince Gilligan (a veteran of "The X-Files"), takes a sharp left turn. There's a game-changing plot twist that is at first fascinating, but ultimately infuriating because the movie never capitalizes on it.

Director Peter Berg, fresh off of "The Kingdom," envelops "Hancock" in a super-saturated color scheme, a haze that's equal parts harsh L.A. sunshine and Hancock's Kentucky bourbon. He also cranks up the handheld camera until it's literally in his actors' faces.

Smith admirably stretches his action-hero goodwill with a character this crusty and obnoxious. But the too-quick ending doesn't allow Smith time to work the transition where we root for him anyway. Smith makes Hancock so abrasively unlikeable that he stays unlikeable to the end.


Where: Theaters everywhere.

When: Opens tonight with screenings at 7 p.m., then in full Wednesday.

Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and language.

Running time: 92 minutes.

Bottom line: Will Smith's charm can't turn around this mess of a movie.