By Stephanie Frederic, Sentinel Entertainment Editor
Check the calendar. It’s the July 4th holiday and in Hollywood that means it’s Big Willie Weekend. Big Willie a.k.a movie star Will Smith has owned the box office during this season six times since 1996.
Let’s roll call the blockbuster films, “Independence Day,” “Men in Black,” “I, Robot,” “Men in Black II” and “Wild Wild West” and now “Hancock.”
Smith’s latest movie, “Hancock” - the story about a Los Angeles based superhero with a bad attitude and a love of Crown Royal - opened in theatres Tuesday night jump-starting the holiday weekend as only he can.
All eyes are on the former Fresh Prince as many are wondering if he’s really still king of the July 4th weekend. Whether critics like his films or not, Big Willie has produced some big numbers. Imagine $4.6 Billion worldwide. Still the gigantic question: Can Smith’s “Hancock” do what his other movies have done - basically blowup the box office Big Willie style?
As you might expect, Smith doesn’t seem worried at all or perhaps it’s his cool, down-to-earth demeanor that masks it. After all - he’s really competing with himself.
“Big Willie in the House,” he screams with great joy and a big smile when I mention the Independence Day holiday.
That would be serious pressure for anyone else, but for Smith - he simply says it’s no pressure, “it’s a weekend that’s been really successful for me and I’m going to ride it until she bumps me.”
He got the “Hancock” script six years ago and knew he had to do it. “I love the concept and I love Superhero movies,” he says. “Usually they take them to an alternate world. I love the idea he’s right here, right now, in this world today.”
Smith may love the superhero aspect, but in the movie - nobody seems to like him. He’s Hancock. He can fly, deflect bullets, stop the bad guys, save lives - cops and otherwise with live TV cameras rolling, but he has a bad attitude. He also drinks too much and demolishes seemingly everything he touches leaving much collateral damage - and here’s the rub: He doesn’t care about the messes he creates. In short, Hancock has a serious public relations problem.
Enter Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) who Hancock saves when his car is stuck on a railroad track and Ray agrees to help the superhero get his mojo back and in turn win back the love of Angelenos.
But when Ray takes Hancock home to meet his wife (Charlize Theron) and son (Jae Head), things get a little bizarre. (Can’t tell you more without giving away the movie)
For much of the film, Hancock seems like a menace to society instead of Superman.
“Hancock is hilarious,” says Smith. “He a modern day super athlete with all this potential who just can’t pull it together.” Is he someone ripped from the headlines, someone we should recognize? “You tell me,” he jokes. “No - not at all, but we all know someone like this.”
The film’s character is so opposite the real Will Smith. It’s really hard to find anyone in Hollywood who doesn’t like him. Regardless of what critics say about his movies (only one wasn’t a mega mega hit and that’s “The Legend of Bagger Vance,”) - fans still lineup to see him again and again and again.
Those who have studied Smith know he’s one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood and this isn’t based on the number of films, but mainly how he strategizes about which project he’ll take. Even Smith admits he’s not the most talented actor in town.
“I’m slightly above average in talent,” he once told 60 minutes. “But where I excel is in my sickening work ethic, while the other guy is sleeping I’m working, while the other guy is eating, I’m working, while the other guy is making love, We-ll (he laughs) I’m making love too, but I’m working really hard at it.”
The soon-to-be 40 year-old Smith also acknowledges an informal but solid pact that he has with his fans. It’s a verbal contract that he takes seriously. “For me, I have a relationship with the audience, they agree they’re going to go in droves (to theatres), and I agree that every time they go - it’s going to be better than the last time,” he says.
“I’m gonna hold up my part as long as they hold up theirs.”
As for his 7 year-old daughter Willow who’s new movie, “Kit Kittridge: An American Girl,” which happens to open July 4th weekend too, Smith wasn’t exactly fatherly in explaining what she can expect.
“I told her, Daddy loves you baby, but I got to stomp you at the box office.”
Spoken in true Big Willie style.