Saturday, January 5, 2008


Will Smith's latest blockbuster I AM LEGEND (**1/2) was a'ight. Just a'ight. It's a got a great premise, solid direction, but a weak, plot-holed filled script (surprise, surprise; Akiva Goldsman is the writer). The film has its moments, some genuinely creepy sequences, and as usual, Smith delivers a confident, likable movie-star performance. It's a big-budget Hollywood action flick that does pretty much exactly what you'd expect, and even has a thoughtful, semi-surprising ending (which is sort of ruined by a tacked-on second ending). The special effects range from excellent to totally phony which is a bit of a let down; director Francis Lawrence (who also helmed the efficient but unspectacular CONSTANTINE) has a way with big action set-pieces but should be beaten for allowing pure CGI to be used for the villians. The film imagines a near-future that has been ravaged by a killer disease; the infected turn into mutant-zombie people who only come out at night and only want to kill. Will Smith is Robert Neville, a military scientist who was working on a cure for the virus before it went airborne; he's also immune (inexplicably) to the virus. He spends his days driving around a deserted, empty New York City (beautifully rendered by the way) in a GTO with his friendly German shepherd, hunting deer. To be honest, the opening 40 minutes or so are pretty awesome. Lawrence establishes a surreal nightmare dreamscape where nature retuns to rule, while Smith commands the screen in a Tom Hanks in CASTAWAY fashion. Alone, talking to his dog like it was a person, and emotionally devastated (his wife and child were killed in a scary evacuation of the city), Neville is literally the last person on earth. Until a woman and child mysteriously show up in the city, looking for way to Vermont (apparently safe haven awaits in the mountains). The mutants, knows as "the dark-seekers," make a final play for Neville and his new companions, and it's at this point where I AM LEGEND falls into a boring, overly computerized finale that echoes too many previous films. Why didn't the filmmakers opt for real people in nasty make-up for the dark-seekers; what purpose did it serve to make them entirely computer generated? If your bad-guys are figments of a computer, and poorly rendered in many instances, they can't be scary. For me, this is when I become utterly divorced from the reality that the film has established, and I start tuning out. When I AM LEGEND sticks to the small details, that's when it works the best. But the plot-holes start almost immediately. How does Neville still have running water if all social and city services have been disrupted? How is he immune to the virus? If the city has been isolated (the George Washington bridge is destroyed in a nice bit of explosion mayhem), how does the mysterious woman and child make it to the city? These are just a few of many head-scratchers. I know, I know, it's an action movie and you have to suspend your disbelief. It's just that sometimes, the laziness on the part of big-budget screenwriters becomes too apparent; it gets insulting. Still, in the end, I AM LEGEND is an entertaining way to spend a rainy afternoon. If you like Will Smith and you like zombie stuff, check it out. It works well enough. But it's not THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

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