There goes the ‘hood
Will Smith does a fine job with little to work with
For folks who pay attention to this kind of stuff, I Am Legend is not an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 seminal horror/sci-fi novel. It’s pretty much nothing more than a remake of the Charlton Heston camp classic The Omega Man (in itself a poor adaptation of the novella), with the goofier aspects removed. If approached with that in mind, this Will Smith actioner is mindless fun.
Here Smith plays Robert Neville, the last man on Earth. He’s the seeming sole survivor of a deadly plague that mutates the scant survivors of the infection into hyperkenetic wrecking balls that burn up when exposed to sunlight. By day, Neville wanders the streets of an isolated New York with Sam, his faithful German shepherd. He tinkers around his lab (also being a military scientist partially to blame for the outbreak, helping devise a cure for cancer that unfortunately had some nigh serious side effects). By night he takes refuge in his fortified brownstone apartment while the mutants shriek outside. Three years of this routine and poor Neville is getting a little wiggy, naturally.
While there was some initial Internet rhubarb as to casting Will Smith in the role, the man manages to assay the role with conviction. Having to carry most of the movie on his own with only a dog to play off of, he does a fine job. It’s only when things start to get crowded in Neville’s world that the narrative begins to start creaking.
Most of the disappointment here is when the mutants begin to crawl out of the woodwork … realized by some of the most piss-poor CGI work on display since Van Helsing. As effects, they are about as organic-looking as a video game cut-scene. While that might be creepy enough while playing a game alone in a darkened room, it just doesn’t fly on the big screen.
Admittedly, there are some grating aspects. The opening sequence is the most blatant car commercial since the Dodge Ram bit that opened Twister. The movie also comes to a complete halt to plug the Shrek disc and the Bob Marley catalog (notably, Legend … heh). Then there are a couple too many deus ex machinas (the refuge of the lazy writer), to the point that one suspects the set probably needed a celestial parking garage.
Overall the film does an admirable job of keeping what is mostly a one-man show from dragging, maintaining a certain amount of suspense and throwing in a few good jolts to keep things from getting stale.
So: First hour is pretty good, as most of the attention is kept on fashioning an achingly beautiful rendition of what our cityscapes will look like when our lease is up.
What follows is OK.