No Will to live

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Will Smith on-screen career has been one big dramatization of the Declaration of Independence.He’s fought for his life (“Enemy of the State”), liberty (“Independence Day”) and last year sought his “Pursuit of Happyness.” He’s even taken that part about “unalienable rights” quite literally while battling space invaders in “Men in Black.”

His latest film, “I am Legend” takes the document’s opening line quite literally as well, where it mentions about establishing a new political power when the current one is considered “destructive.” Considering the government itself has been destroyed (along with about 93 percent of the world’s population), taking charge is exactly what his character does.

We first meet the former Fresh Prince as he confidently zips through New York City streets at top speed in a souped-up sportscar.  It’s a sight we’ve become accustomed to in a Will Smith movie, but there is something slightly off here.

Wild grasses poke out of the pavement, animals dart through graveyards of stalled vehicles in the middle of city streets and Smith’s typical pity one liners are heard only by his faithful German Shepherd  named Sam.It seems that a miracle drug believed to be the cure for cancer mutated into a virus that shook up the population like an Etch-a-Sketch.Oopsie.

Now military scientist Robert Neville (Smith) may be the last man standing after building up immunity while looking to cure the “cure.”And so his days are spent roaming the streets, stockpiling necessities, quipping with Sam and otherwise trying to remain sane. The latter is getting increasingly difficult, though.

He commandeers an AM radio station, broadcasting a plea for anyone within earshot, ending his statement with “You are not alone.” We are left to wonder is this is to reassure the listener or himself.He knows he’s certainly not the last being in the city. As the daylight dims, the streets become flooded with humanoid vampires – an apparent side effect to the drug (note to self, always listen to the side effects warnings on drug commercials for one that says “May cause vampirism.”).  They seemed to have tapped the veins of every other living survivor and are on the prowl for Neville.

The problem with “Legend” begins and ends with these beasts’ inclusion.  Sure, it’s creepy to include the threat of ravenous mutants lurking in the dark of an otherwise vacant city, but did they have to look so computer generated? Seriously, the “Weekly World News’” Bat Boy was more terrifying than these “Resident Evil” video-game rejects.Aside from an initial encounter with these pale, veiny globs of pixels, they immediately take the viewer out of the film every time they enter the frame. It’s a shame, too.

Prior to their arrival, director Francis Lawrence (“Constantine”) begins his film on a very intimate tone, following Neville on his daily quest for purpose and meaning. And in these smaller moments, Smith does some of his best work. We see the typical bravado as it begins to chip off like the plaster on so many of the film’s now-vacant buildings.

All intimacy is lost midway through, as Lawrence kicks into full Big Willie Style, sending Smith to doge and react to green screen images in a number of deafening action sequences.

This is the third go-round for the 1954 sci-fi novel from Richard Matheson (it was first released as “The Last Man on Earth” in 1964, then remade about a decade later as “The Omega Man”). It’s by far the most lavish take on book, and the one that comes closest to its subtext of isolation and necessity for contact.

But when a trio computer animated singing rodents in the next theater over are more lifelike and engaging than the supposedly terrifying creatures of this film, you know you’re in trouble. Perhaps the producers could swap notes with the makers of the “Alvin” movie and create “I am Chipmunk” for the sequel.

For Smith, now he can get to work on that long-awaited series of films based on constitutional amendments. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to a riveting dramatization on the 23rd Amendment which grants the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) the right to three electors in Presidential elections titled “He’s the DJ, I’m the President.”

~ by usesoapfilm on December 17, 2007.

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