Sunday, December 16, 2007

Movies: I Am Legend

• A much-anticipated blockbuster is steeped in overly familiar themes.

Genre: Horror, sci-fi, adaptation
Run time: 1:40
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Will Smith, Alice Braga
Verdict: &&&

It's unfortunate that a movie adapted from classic source material — Richard Matheson's 1954 novel — can end up feeling derivative of countless other zombie, virus and zombie-virus movies, but that's the fate of I Am Legend, which never musters the depth to make the viewer feel much more than the predictable tension of jump scares and chase scenes. Scientist Robert Neville (Will Smith) is, or thinks he is, the last person left alive after the cure for cancer goes terribly wrong (a clever touch), transforming the populace into vampire-like creatures that feed on human blood and do not mix with sunshine. Immune to the virus, Neville, with his dog friend, an emotive crutch for the movie, hunts deer by day on the car-littered streets of New York City, where the only sounds are those of birds and bugs. He works on a cure for the virus in his basement lab, using rodents and captured mutants as test subjects. He entertains himself with a fancy TV, visiting a video store daily to pluck new selections from the shelves and to interact with the mannequins he has placed along the way to make the world feel less empty. His wristwatch alarm is set to remind him when it's time to retreat to the security of home, where windows and doors are covered with steel barriers. As Neville appears to be on the trail of a cure, his circumstances take an increasingly desperate turn as the infected become wise to his location. While his encounters with the infected do build suspense, the movie fails to make the viewer truly feel the depths of isolation and desperation that would have tormented the man's fragile emotions, leaving this a less moving story than it could have been. Still, with this movie and, particularly, I, Robot, Smith deserves kudos for bringing smarter ideas to the blockbuster movie.

// DID YOU KNOW? // I Am Legend is the third movie based on Matheson's novel, following The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971).

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