I Am Legend

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I Am Legend
Review (6.5/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

Every time that I see Will Smith headlining yet another big screen blockbuster, I am reminded of a very amusing scene from Kevin Smith’s non-blockbuster film, “Jersey Girl”. The scene, set in June 1995, depicts the film’s lead character, Ollie Trinke (played by Ben Affleck - who was, at that point, in freefall with his own acting career), effectively ending his career as a public relations guru after dismissing Will Smith as, “a two-bit TV actor” and adding the infamous prediction, “Like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is ever gonna have a movie career.”

What makes the scene amusing in hindsight, of course, is that a mere month later, Will Smith’s “Independence Day” would infiltrate the North American box office, go on to earn over $300 million in American theatres alone, and make Will Smith one of the most bankable film stars in the world. Apparently, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air did manage to eke out a movie career for himself.

Twelve years, thirteen (mostly) successful films and two Oscar nominations later, Will Smith is back just in time for Christmas with another of his big-screen extravaganzas.

Directed by Francis Lawrence (“Constantine”), I Am Legend tells the story of Robert Neville (Smith), a brilliant scientist living in the remains of New York City after the city, and the world, have been ravaged by a deadly, man-made virus. Neville, who is immune to the virus, is racing against time to develop a cure for the surviving victims - rabid, carnivorous beings who will kill him if they find him first.

I went into I Am Legend expecting another of Will Smith’s science fiction extravaganzas. I was surprised to discover a taut psychological thriller that was more akin to “Cast Away” than to “Independence Day”.

The strength of I Am Legend rests firmly on the shoulders of its star. Will Smith spends most of his time on screen alone (unless you consider the dog to be a supporting actor) and is required to rely upon his emotional range as an actor to drive the film. For a lesser actor, it would have been an insurmountable task, but Smith manages to deliver a credible, heartfelt performance. In any other film, it would undoubtedly have earned him award nominations.

But, during a year when outstanding acting performances support equally outstanding films (Daniel Day Lewis in “There Will Be Blood”, James McAvoy in “Atonement” and Tommy Lee Jones in, “In the Valley of Elah” come to mind), Smith should not be surprised to discover that his name will be absent from the nomination lists during award season. Notwithstanding his performance, he cannot change the fact that I Am Legend is a merely average science fiction film.

It is difficult to describe where I Am Legend falls short, but it does. It is not thought-provoking - it is a film that is easily forgotten shortly after the audience leaves the theatre. It does not generate any credible feeling of urgency or suspense - it is a film that sleepwalks from scene to scene. Absent is that indescribable quality that distinguishes an “okay” film from a truly great film. Director Lawrence and screenwriters Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman have failed to create a film that will ever achieve the status of “legend”.

I Am Legend is not a film that will appeal to those people who are expecting to see a hybrid of Independence Day, Enemy of the State or Men in Black. It is also not a film that will appeal to those people who are expecting to see a peer to a psychological piece such as “Cast Away”. But, for fans of Will Smith who are prepared to sit through an average film, it is an opportunity to observe how the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air grew up to become one of Hollywood’s best and brightest.


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