BEVERLY HILLS, California — You might be up on the latest action-movie news regarding “Iron Man,” “Justice League of America” and “Watchmen,” but have you heard about that other superhero? The alcoholic, homeless guy in the flip-flops? If not, it might be time to put Will Smith’s postmodern comic flick on your radar, because it could be on the verge of creating another “John Hancock” revolution.
“We’re halfway through it right now,” explained director Peter Berg this week, giving us some exclusive details on the film. “Will Smith plays an alcoholic, suicidal superhero [whose actions are] destroying the city of Los Angeles, and he’s trying to rehabilitate his image.”
“It comes out next summer,” added Daeg Faerch, the young actor who landed a role in the flick after he was chosen to star in “Halloween” as the young Michael Myers. “It was called ’Tonight, He Comes,’ but now it’s called ’John Hancock’ because he’s a drunk and [when a fan] asks him for his John Hancock, he signs it ’John Hancock.’ ”
Currently shooting around Los Angeles, the big-budget film — which has also been known simply as “Hancock,” but whose title is still up in the air — puts Smith alongside Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman in a dark story that explores the flipside of being a superhero. So if the Venom-suited scenes from “Spider-Man 3″ or the peanut-flicking bar moment in “Superman III” were among your favorites, “John Hancock” has your name written all over it.
“Will plays a down-and-out superhero — a drunk, homeless superhero that the [public] doesn’t like because he’s so drunk that when he solves crime, he creates a lot of collateral damage,” Bateman explained of the movie, which has been dangling Smith on wires 50 feet over L.A. streets. “Early in the film he saves my life, and I say to pay him back I’ll revamp his image for him because I’m in corporate PR. We’re well into that, and I’m buying him a cape and telling him how to do news conferences and all that crap — and then he falls for my wife, Charlize Theron.”
“There’s a real intelligence to it,” said Theron, who reportedly has some steamy scenes with Smith. “[The script] was fun yet smart, complicated [and] had a lot of conflict. I don’t see a lot of that coming from Fourth of July movies. I like that.”
While the “Pursuit of Happyness” star certainly has the build to play a high-flying hero, don’t start imagining him in tights just yet. “He wears, for the most part, a pair of old ratty surf shorts, an old 1958 Philadelphia Eagles hat, a T-shirt and flip-flops,” said Berg, promising he’ll make the character seem very real.
“I’m a French punk who cuts him off,” Faerch said. “He throws me into outer space.”
When asked what kind of powers Smith’s character has, Bateman replied, “He’s got ’em all. He’s like Spider-Man, Superman and whatever. He’s the kind of superhero that we all live with, like in ’Spider-Man’ and ’Superman,’ where it’s a normal world but he’s just one guy that has superhero powers.”
Originally written in 1996 and coinciding with Hollywood’s blossoming love affair with comic books, “Hancock/ John Hancock/ Tonight, He Comes” has passed through the directorial hands of everyone from Tony Scott (“True Romance”) to Michael Mann (“Heat”) to Jonathan Mostow (“Terminator 3″) and more. Behind-the-scenes talents had various takes on which of two directions the flick should go for it to properly send up the modern superhero: silly (à la “Mystery Men”) or serious (like “Watchmen”).
Berg, however, saw the script as something in between. “I don’t think it’s either. It’s a pretty straightforward superhero film,” he said. “We’re introducing a new superhero; it’s just that he’s got some problems. But at its core, this is an attempt to create a brand-new superhero.”
“It’s got a lot of interesting, different tones — it’s action, it’s drama, it’s comedy,” Bateman agreed. “And with Pete Berg directing it, they definitely wanted to embrace those multiple tones, as opposed to having somebody come in to just deliver this popcorn, commercial film. I hope, I think, it feels like we’re executing and delivering them well — it won’t just be a typical summer popcorn movie, but it will hold up to high-brow scrutiny.”
“I find ’John Hancock’ a challenge because it’s not something I’m familiar with; it’s not a comfort zone with me,” Theron said of her work on the set so far. “You throw me in a drama, and I know I can swim — but I like the idea of doing this and looking at Will and saying, ’I don’t know, “Men in Black 4,” you tell me [how to do it]. I don’t do these!’ ”
“Charlize Theron and I know each other from ’Arrested Development,’ so we’re getting along incredibly well,” Bateman said of the Oscar winner who had a brief story arc on his now-defunct ratings-challenged TV show. “And Will Smith — the guy could run for mayor, governor and president, and I’d vote for all three of them.”
“It’s a really well-written piece that isn’t just fluff,” Theron promised. “And it’s not just silly comedy. There’s a lot of really, really heavy stuff in this.”
Whatever the film is eventually called, it will simultaneously soar and stumble into theaters on July 2.
Check out everything we’ve got on “John Hancock.”
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