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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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What happened to Charlize Theron in 'Hancock'?

June 25, 2008 | 12:54 pm

From a casual viewing of the marketing material for "Hancock," Sony's upcoming Will Smith comic thriller, I hardly knew that Charlize Theron was even in the movie. Our crack reporter Chris Lee turned up at an early screening and offers this assessment:

"At an early screening of 'Hancock' at the Grove last week, Will Smith’s performance as an alcoholic superhero with a bad attitude and a mounting public relations crisis had the packed theater alternately chuckling and wide-eyed. 'Hancock’s' third-billed costar, Charlize Theron, on the other hand, had everyone--high school students, foreign tourists, Sony executives--literally gasping with surprise.

"In the film, she’s a stay-at-home mom, the skeptical wife of a PR executive with a heart of gold (the movie’s second-billed costar, Jason Bateman) who’s trying to repair super-screw-up Hancock’s negative public image one good deed at a time. For his part, Hancock repays the kindness by trying to put the moves on his publicist’s woman. I won’t spoil the surprise here, but let’s just say Valkyrie-like South African Oscar-winner Theron has a much meatier part in the film than you might otherwise be led to believe by her marginal presence in various trailers, billboards and one-sheets for 'Hancock.'


"Even the little kid with a backpack who offhandedly calls Smith a 'jackass' in the trailer is getting more YouTube face time. While it’s certainly tricky to entice moviegoers with the promise of a big third-act plot twist--without giving too much of its pivotal 'reveal' away--past marketers have done much more with much less (to wit: the all-fur-coat-and-no-knickers viral marketing scheme for 'Cloverfield'). All things considered, it’s downright mysterious that Sony would squander any opportunity to connect with 'Hancock’s' core constituency--young males--by leaving the blond bombshell Esquire named 'the Sexiest Woman Alive' on the cutting room floor."

Chris makes some good points. So I called up Sony marketing guru Val Van Galder to find out--did the studio really blow a chance to get even more young guys in to see their film? Here's her side of the story:

"There are so few surprises in summer movies that we made a strategic decision to keep Charlize out of sight," Van Galder explained. "Trust me, there is a big surprise in the film and when it happens, you hear an audible gasp from the audience. It's a fun secret and to keep it fun, we decided to leave it unexplored in the trailer. It's a lot better to maintain the mystery of what Charlize is up to."

Most of the time, when you talk to studio marketers about their wildly expensive summer films, they're under so much pressure--from insecure filmmakers, cranky production chiefs and busy-body reporters like me--that they sound like they're about to be rushed off to a funny farm. But Van Galder had the relaxed air of someone who suspects she has a pretty big hit on her hands (despite a not especially enthusiastic review from Variety ).  Van Galder doesn't think Theron will be missed too much--until people see her in the film. As she put it: "I'm hoping that just having Will Smith playing a really cool superhero will be enough to get a few people in to see the picture."    

Charlize Theron photo by Miguel Villagran / Associated Press