Monday, December 09, 2013

I Am Legend (2007) ***

“I Am Legend” is one of those films that I liked better while watching it than I did immediately afterwards, sort of like eating a fast-food meal.  The action kept me on the edge of my seat, but once my heart rate came down it was hard not to focus on some of the holes in the story.
Will Smith plays Lt. Colonel Robert Neville, the last living human being on Manhattan Island, and possibly in the world for all he knows.  A gene therapy designed to treat cancer has mutated into a rabies-like virus that turns humans and animals into  insanely aggressive, hairless, sunlight-fearing monsters.  As a military scientist, Robert had struggled, and failed, to contain the epidemic.  Robert is part of the tiny percentage of humans who are immune to the virus.  For 3 years he has struggled to survive in New York with no human contact, working in his basement lab to find a cure, barricading himself inside his house each night to avoid the notice of the swarming Darkseekers.  He is making some progress in his experiments, but it’s a race against time, as his mind is also slowly unraveling from the pervasive social isolation.
The best part of the film is the dog, Robert’s German shepherd, Sam.  She’s a good canine actor with a lot of personality.  The bond between Sam and Robert, and the extent to which the relationship keeps Robert sane, is touching.  Will Smith’s performance is less even.  At times, his efforts to portray Robert’s complicated mental state fall prey to his glib, frantic “Will Smith” persona.  This is particularly confusing in a scene where Robert is caught in a trap similar to ones he uses to trap the Darkseekers.  His behavior is erratic either way, but it’s impossible to tell whether he is dementedly falling into one of his own traps, or if the Darkseekers have copied his trap design in order to trap him.
“I Am Legend” is based on the 1954 Richard Matheson novel of the same name, which was adapted previously into 1964’s “The Last Man On Earth” and 1971’s “The Omega Man.”  Interestingly, reviews suggest that the novel and those earlier films all portray the infected humans as much more vampire-like, while the “I Am Legend” film paints them more like fast zombies who can’t stand light.  In fact, the story it most reminds me of is the zombie-plague thriller “28 Days Later.”  “28 Days Later” has become a classic, while “I Am Legend” doesn’t quite reach that level, largely due to plot problems that become untenable in the second half of the film.  Nonetheless, it’s a decent action flick, especially for those who enjoy the zombie genre.

3 stars out of 5

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