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I AM LEGEND
U.S. Release Date: December 14, 2007
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writer: Akiva Goldsman, Mark Protosevich
Producer: Dana Goldberg (executive), Akiva Goldsman, David Heyman, James Lassiter, Neal H. Moritz, Erwin Stoff, Michael Tadross (executive)
Composer: James Newton Howard
Cast: Will Smith
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence)

Remake Drains the Brains Out of a Legend
by Scott Holleran

The dull, disgusting star vehicle I Am Legend would be more accurately labeled I Am Lamentable. There are plot spoilers ahead so if you go into convulsions when the plot is described, stop reading; this stinker merits a major disclaimer that requires divulgence.

First, an admission: I've enjoyed several viewings of Charlton Heston in The Omega Man, a 1971 adaptation of I Am Legend, the post-apocalyptic novel by Richard Matheson about a man who stands alone against a mob of vampires following a worldwide catastrophe (an uninspired horror adaptation The Last Man on Earth was also released in the Sixties). This miserable remake, starring Will Smith, takes what made The Omega Man distinctive and tosses it into the incinerator.

Like an inferno of toxic materials, I Am Legend stinks up the joint with bad acting, directing and writing. On top of that—here comes the spoiler—they kill the only sympathetic being in a heinous scene that no civilized individual should ever endure.

The dog's name is Sam, an expressive and devoted German Shepherd. Any person who has ever stayed beside a dying dog should avoid this movie like bubonic plague. In a gratuitous scene that neither advances the plot nor develops character, Sam dies a slow, painful death. Watching the dog die in this manner does not enhance one's understanding of the Smith character's loss. The scene warrants singling out as a part of what's wrong.

Trying to have the depth of Mr. Heston's movie and the horror element of the Sixties picture at the same time, I Am Legend defaults to scare tactics every time, becoming a series of sudden, screaming outbursts. It's as if somebody let Mel Gibson into the director's chair. Absolutely putrid.

Smith, falling apart and bawling in every other scene, all but erases the memory of his exceptional father drama, The Pursuit of Happyness. He plays Robert Neville, a scientist who tries to find an antidote for a deadly virus unleashed by Emma Thompson in a stammering cameo—only to learn it is too late to save humanity.

That realization comes three years after Thompson supposedly discovered a cure for cancer, just so it's clear that man, not God, is to blame for the apocalypse, except Smith's near-lunatic, who may "redeem" himself by suffering for the sin of having acquired knowledge. As one automaton says to another: "God didn't do this—we did."

Tell that to the cardboard character pleading to a supernatural being while the U.S. military destroys New York City's bridges so that millions of infected New Yorkers cannot escape. Where The Omega Man portrayed the plot's contaminated vampires as a cloaked cult of followers ("the family") chanting anti-man, anti-industrial slogans and parading around like environmentalists led by Charles Manson, I Am Legend's super-zombies merely jump, scream (like banshees at peak volume) and feed off the living.

But there's nothing alive left to leech life from—not really—certainly not Neville, the last man on earth (or is he?) who is remarkably incompetent for someone who survived years in post-viral Manhattan. This movie drags, following man and dog around New York's concrete canyons, as he hallucinates and alternately sweats bullets or plays it cool when one of those computer-generated creatures leaps out and screeches like a cat in heat. That's the routine: endless dead calm, standard issue pre-attack darkness, then a pointless pounce. When Sam bounds into a dead zone, it feels like ten minutes of a flashlight flailing in the dark—strictly to induce fear, not to unspool any legend.

Smith's version of Neville is pure anti-hero; gym-bodied and dumb as a doorknob. He doesn't train the pooch, he doesn't catch prey for food, despite an arsenal of automatic weapons, and he literally walks into a trap. When shrieking corpses impossibly trace him to his presumably impenetrable fortress, he fumbles with floodlights—the undead flee from light—and fails to shoot straight. "Light up the darkness," the movie's churchy theme instructs with the soul of a Malibu mystic—heck, Neville can't even light up his apartment in time to fend off an attack.

Instead, he listens to dreadlocked hippie music, zips around in a product placement and flashes back to his wife and kid—as emotionally involving as a tube of toothpaste—and talks to mannequins that may or may not be real. At some point, especially after Sam is killed, one begins to root for the squealing demons.

The action looks fake, particularly at night, or when speed is in play, or when monsters are on the prowl, and images resemble a video game. Inconsistencies are numerous; an inhabitant appears to escape bridgeless Manhattan without getting wet. This leads to a place in the sun where there's a giant fence and—dead center—a towering steeple, like a politically correct ending to appease religionists and their fantasy of a land ruled by faith, force and a fence on the border. Not the stuff of legend—this is unqualified horror with nothing to offer.


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