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Will Smith Rocks the Box Office

POSTED:

Damn, if he hasn't done it again. Will Smith put his star power behind Hancock, helping the movie gross a humungus $107 million to become the third-biggest Fourth of July opener of all time after Transformers and Spider-Man 2. That's Big Willy for ya. He's the first actor in Hollywood history to have eight consecutive movies top the $100 million mark. (Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise suffered breaks in their winning streaks.) Hancock is also the most successful of Mr. Smith's five July Fourth movies — 1996's Independence Day, 1997's Men in Black, 2002's Men in Black 2, and 1999's godawful Wild Wild West. Speaking of godawful, most reviewers saw Hancock that way. Except for David Denby in The New Yorker, Manohla Dargis in The New York Times, Roger Ebert and yours truly, reviewers coldcocked Hancock. Why, you ask?

The major objection seems to be the effort of the movie to go deeper than most superhero junk. Look, I didn't buy the plot shift during the last third of Hancock, but I admired director Peter Berg and the actors for trying something different. To judge by most of the reviews, you play by the formula and win or die trying to mess with it. Audiences voted for taking the leap into the wild blue with Smith and his gifted costars, Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron. Go ahead, tell me differently, but my guess is that those of you who forked over the bucks to see Hancock on the holiday weekend did it because of Smith, who is that rare combo — an actor and a star. I'd enjoy hearing your reactions to the movie. I'd also like to hear what you think are the top three Will Smith performances. For the sake of argument, let's leave out his Oscar-nominated dramatic performances in Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness, also his un-nominated by deserving work in Six Degrees of Separation. We're talking here about the three other best representations of Will Smith Superstar besides Hancock. Here are mine:

Men in Black (1997)

Sure, Big Willy was dynamic in 1996's Indy 4, but the first Men in Black proved he had megastar force, and so much of it that he damn near stole the movie from his hardass costar Tommy Lee Jones, both playing agents chasing aliens. Flipping on his Ray-Bans, Agent Smith cracks wise to Agent Jones: "You know the difference between you and me? I make this look good." That he did, and then some. The sight of Smith getting wrapped up in a baby alien's giant tail and tossed around like a wet rag in spin dry still makes me laugh out loud.

Enemy of the State (1998)

As a D.C. attorney having mind and body systematically destroyed by a crazed NSA honcho, Smith brings dramatic chops to a role that could slide by on the thriller fireworks detonated by producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott. Instead, Smith finds the heart of the character and carries the movie without the help of aliens or Big Willie jokes.

I Am Legend (2007)

It is totally cool to see Manhattan devoid of people as Smith and his dog roam the ruins after a virus wipes out the population. OK, the last third of the movie goes to shit, just like it does in Hancock. But Smith is so good you follow him anywhere. That's a star.

Bonus Question: What is Will Smith's worst movie ever?

My Answer: The Legend of Bagger Vance for drowning Smith in metaphysical pap.

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Peter Travers

Rolling Stone senior writer Peter Travers has reviewed movies for the magazine for more than 20 years. Send your comments and questions to him here.

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