I Am Legend Review

Dec 14, 2007 | 4:11am EST

Based on Richard Matheson’s timeless novel  I Am Legend centers on brilliant military virologist Robert Neville (Smith) the seemingly lone survivor of an unstoppable incurable virus that has wiped out most of the world’s population. I say most because besides a few who are immune there are others who have survived: victims of the plague mutated into raging inhuman beings who can only exist in the dark and who will devour or infect anyone or anything in their path. Nice group. Spending his days scavenging for food and supplies in a deserted Manhattan Neville faithfully sends out radio messages to anyone out there who might also be immune and still alive. He is also trying to continue his work in finding a cure using his own immune blood. But “The Infected’ are waiting for him to make a mistake--and getting smarter about catching him in the act. Can he come up with a cure in time to stop the ravaging masses? Well it IS Will Smith after all. No matter what he decides to do Mr. Smith rarely disappoints even when he ventures away from the moneymaking blockbusters (i.e. his Oscar-nominated performance in The Pursuit of Happyness). Still sci-fi actioners really are the perfect venue for Smith. He is convincing at reacting to a special-effects green screen and is adept at handling any stunt work involved. But in I Am Legend he also gets to incorporate his finely tuned acting skills. Much like Tom Hanks did in Cast Away Smith accurately shows what it might be like to be the last person on Earth. His Neville has a need to create some semblance of normalcy while combating the deep-seated loneliness that permeates his days. Instead of a volleyball he sets up mannequins all over the city especially in his favorite video store and talks to them every day. But mostly Neville deals with his personal demons over what has happened with the help of his dog a German shepherd named Sam who handily gels with his on-screen master. A good dog just makes a film that much better. Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) and director Francis Lawrence (Constantine) had a tough act to follow when they decided to turn Richard Matheson’s novel into a new movie. 1971’s The Omega Man based on the same story and starring Charlton Heston was already a cult sci-fi classic. Yet the two collaborators knew what worked about the novel and in getting Will Smith involved were able to expertly re-imagine it for a modern-day audience. Goldsman goes for the emotional core of the story--Neville’s loneliness and redemption--while Lawrence takes care of the thrills. The action sequences especially the ones in which Neville is running from the Infected pretty much have the same effect as any good virus-turns-humans-into-zombie flicks. But the problem lies in the way the Infected look. Using CGI rather than real people takes a little away from the horror of it. The Infected look more like the robots in I Robot than they do human homicidal monsters. Nevertheless I Am Legend combines the right elements for a rousing and gripping cinematic experience.

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