Every day, Robert Neville (Will Smith) gets
up, works out, and takes his dog for a walk. Occasionally,
he might stop by the video store and continue working through
the films he hasn't seen. If a canned meal won't do, he
and his dog Sam go hunting - provided the lions don't get
to the deer first. And at the end of the day, Neville decides
whether or not this is the night he just goes ahead and
Thanks to the miracle of modern science,
Neville is the Last Man On Earth in the latest adaptation
of Richard Matheson's classic novel I Am Legend.
Though this film from Director Francis Lawrence changes
a lot of details and owes as much to The Omega Man,
it still holds true to the tension of Matheson's novel and
absolutely captures the spirit. It even finds a way for
the title to resonate, even though it's a different explanation.
A cure for cancer went horribly awry, killing
off 90% of the world's population, with less than 1% immune.
The other survivors? Turned into feral vampire-like creatures
that fed on anyone they could find. Out of guilt or out
of responsibility, Neville stays in New York City because
it's Ground Zero, determined to find a way to cure the cure.
Lawrence paces things very well. For at
least thirty minutes, Neville suffers alone. Running through
his days, working on the cure and haunted by his past, Neville
knows what's out there. But we don't. At night, shrieks
can be heard, and he tries to drown it out with Bob Marley.
That Marley has an album called Legend turns out
to be little coincidence in Mark Protosevich's script, one
of several surprisingly literate and subtle touches.
In a nod to The Omega Man, Neville
has set up dummies along his route, populating the video
store so that he can feel a little less crazy about talking
to himself. It seemed cheesy in the seventies, but with
Smith's nuanced performance, the mannequins become the crux
of a heartrending scene.
Once the creatures, inexplicably called
"Alphas" in the cast list, stand revealed, the film still
hinges on Smith. Though actors such as Dash Mihok were occasionally
used - or underused-- Lawrence makes the misstep of relying
on CG to build the menace, phony monsters up against a real
Smith holds it. Though occasionally he
has the script modified to fit his Big Willy Style, he drops
that for the most part, subsuming himself in the agony of
Neville. Because he has made this man so alive, the movie
keeps holding our attention, even past obvious jokes about
2009 - there's a poster for a Superman/Batman crossover
movie and gas prices have shot up over $6 a gallon. Smith's
pain moves us past those nods.
It has a few flaws, most again revolving
around those creatures. Neville makes an observation about
their behavior breaking down, losing the ability to think,
and yet the second half of the film depends on exactly the
opposite happening, until such time as it needs them to
be mindless again.
As a fan of the novel, I expected disappointment.
Instead, it works extremely well on its own terms, luring
one great actor into a cameo and pulling another performance
out of Smith that reminds us that he's more than a movie
star - he's an actor. I didn't even get to see The Dark
Knight teaser, and I was still satisfied.