Friday, December 14, 2007

I Am Legend' (starring Will Smith)

"I Am Legend" has a distinct drop-off point, which is a shame, because for an hour it's a surprisingly absorbing last-man-on-Earth movie. Why surprising? Because the director, Francis Lawrence, made "Constantine," which was two hours of visual noise. This one actually takes its time, creating some sights worth the gape, though they tend to be rather simple and unshowy sights, such as Will Smith stalking the empty, weed-strewn streets of Manhattan, looking for something to eat.

Working from a script by Mark Protosevich and revised by Akiva Goldsman, the new film is the third big-screen adaptation to date of the 1954 Richard Matheson novella. Smith stars as Dr. Robert Neville, apparent sole survivor of a viral plague, the result of a cancer cure gone horribly wrong. The film begins with news footage of the doctor responsible for the miracle, played by Emma Thompson, acknowledging her contributions on camera. Something in Thompson's wily eyes suggests a flickering doubt or two regarding the cure's efficacy. If you ever see this same look in your own doctor's eyes, switch doctors.

Matheson's story rides on a very simple and flexible premise, which is why filmmakers keep returning to it, changing particulars depending on the times. Our own time has fixed post-9/11 Manhattan as an epicenter of horror--hence the New York setting. For a long time, profitably, "I Am Legend" chronicles the daily routine of Neville as he and his dog search for food, the primary order of business. A few stray computer-generated deer have survived the plague, along with the odd computer-generated lion. Plus, Neville has "the dark seekers" to mess with: These are the vampiric denizens of the night, part human but transformed by the plague into bloodthirsty devils. Their closest cinematic cousins are the well-dressed bloodsuckers in the recent "30 Days of Night," to name one film less entertaining than this one.

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