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Saturday, December 29, 2007

REVIEW - "I Am Legend" (2007)

It’s comforting to say “I Am Legend” is not your typical apocalyptic zombie adventure—I actually hesitate to call it a zombie flick. It bares enough difference to the overall zombie mythos that people who are turned away from filth like “28 Weeks Later” and “Resident Evil” might enjoy it. Will Smith gives a performance you will remember in this “Cast Away” akin, creature feature and it offers enough thrills to satisfy the zombie fans.

All of the previous compliments I write with hesitance. While “I Am Legend” knows how to be a fun movie that does a lot of things right, it also feels like it’s missing some essential touch-ups: Special effects, emotion, narrative, psychological thoughtfulness—Take your pick, but the film just feels like it struggles to be something greater than it is.

Will Smith stars as Robert Neville, the supposed lone survivor of a virus outbreak that has turned humans violent and unresponsive to rational behavior. (They’re zombies.) These creatures only come out at night, so Robert, and his dog Sam, hunt game, golf on aircraft carriers and broadcast his existence on a daily basis before heading inside to hide from the creatures.

Will Smith’s Robert Neville is a character forcing himself to remain optimistic as he tries to find a cure for the virus. To keep his sanity he stays close to his dog, drives to the video store daily to pick up a new movie and talk to mannequins. Smith is probably the film’s only complete aspect. He tries so hard to bring the film to the emotional level that it desires to be, but, ironically, the material won’t always let him. The scenes he succeeds the most in have to do with events concerning his dog. (Slight spoiler, but dog lovers beware…)

What really made me question the film’s integrity was the third and final act. Suddenly the suspense, torment and thrills that the film built on are tarnished by the inclusion of new characters and improbable events leaving the film hanging on to the thread of Smith alone. It already had its flaws, but by this point it’s just disjointed. The pacing becomes lightening fast and in twenty minutes we’re suppose to take in a whirlwind of heartfelt scenes, religious speculation, action, suspense and extreme character development. That’s a lot to breathe in during a short amount of time. So what was the movie doing beforehand? Why didn’t we see more character development and the questioning of faith earlier?

For all its faults, odd pacing and bad CGI, “I Am Legend” knows how to entertain with a few thrills and Will Smith certainly knows how to command the screen. Perhaps the legendary message of hope isn’t the strongest I’ve seen it portrayed and the ending doesn’t have the effect it should have had, but it has the soul of a strong, heartfelt movie. Smith was able to see that and bring out the best in it. Now imagine if the crew working on the film was more competent. We might have had a legend on our hands.

**½ out of ****

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