Will Smith is a big draw, even in bad movies

From the July 11, 2008, Deseret News

My wife is quite disappointed in Will Smith. Well, not Smith personally but in his lousy latest film, "Hancock."

Yeah, yeah, I know. It earned more than $100 million, a huge first weekend, securing (as if it needed to) Smith's place in movie history as the guy whose movies always open big.

Doesn't matter. The picture stinks.

And yes, I also know Joyce and I are older, that we fell out of the movie demographic years ago, that we are in fact nowhere near the target audience for "Hancock." Or 95 percent of the other movies being released these days.

But if Smith is in it we will come.

For Joyce, he is one of the few modern movie stars who can, as they say, "open" a picture. That is to say, no matter what the film may be, she wants to see it.

Me: "The reviews aren't good."

Joyce: "Hey, it's Will."

And to see him she has put up with a lot of movies in her least favorite genre, sci-fi: "Independence Day," "Men in Black (I and II)," "I, Robot," "I Am Legend."

And now, "Hancock."

We weren't encouraged by the trailer. We read the reviews. But we went anyway. Hey, it's Will.

I do understand. Back in another movie age, I felt that way about James Stewart and Audrey Hepburn and Paul Newman … and quite a few others. If one of those names was above the title, it didn't matter if it was a Western, a comedy, a thriller, a musical, a romance, whatever. I went to see the star as much as the movie.

In Hollywood's glory days, there were quite a few stars who made even a mediocre film worth a two-hour investment. These days, the stars get richer even if their movies get worse.

These days we often feel that we've wasted our time and money because a modern misfire can mean more than merely a disappointing movie. It's also likely to mean something insulting, offensive and off-putting.

But for Joyce there are three stars whose presence on the screen guarantees our presence in a theater seat on opening night. Will Smith is one. George Clooney and Denzel Washington are the others.

As in, "Hey, it's George." Or, "Hey, it's Denzel."

But "Hancock" really tested her resolve. Much more than, say, George's "The Good German" or Denzel's remake of "The Manchurian Candidate."

She became weary of "Hancock's" noisy destruction that was so obviously enhanced by computer graphics — to the extent that it begins to feel like watching someone else play a video game.

And she was especially put off by the cussing children, the cussing elderly, the repeated use of the word "ass" in various forms — as if that word by itself is simply hilarious — and especially by the visual depiction, after a couple of verbal threats, of someone's head being stuck up someone else's … um … posterior.

Yes, Will Smith is stooping to Adam Sandler/Will Ferrell territory.

And it's rated PG-13; wonderful children's fare.

Interestingly, Joyce's biggest disappointment was the realization that Smith was not just an actor for hire on "Hancock." He's also one of the producers!

We're in complete agreement. "Hancock" is a mess.

But let's not forget how much money it made. It's hard to send a message to moviemakers that they need to improve when their worst efforts are so heartily rewarded.