Friday, December 21, 2007

I Am Legend: So-so at best

I saw I Am Legend earlier today and feel compelled to ring in with a rather unenthusiastic review.

First off, I COULD NOT wait to see this movie. I saw the first trailer on IMDB months ago and was entranced. Will Smith as the last human on Earth, living in a deserted and collapsing NYC - it looked amazing.

Then, not so long ago, I downloaded the original screenplay, written by Mark Protosevich, who has not written much else. It's fantastic, definitely worth a read.

OK, so the movie opens. I have a vacation day, kids in school, wife at work. I know the wife isn't going to want to see this, so I go catch the early matinee (five bucks) at the local Cinemark. I am literally grinning from ear to ear when the lights go down.

An hour and a half later, I was pretty disappointed.

Will Smith is good, maybe great, as very solitary Robert Neville, a military scientist who may have been somewhat responsible for the initial spread of the "Krippen Virus". KV, as it's called once or twice in the film, transforms its victims (like 99% of humanity and some portion of the animal kingdom - dogs, at least) into mutant, mindless vampire zombies or somesuch. Most of the movie occurs three years after the outbreak of the virus, following a failed attempt to cure cancer.

The decimation of humanity is pretty close to complete, and Neville has only had his family's German Shepherd, Samantha, for company since the outbreak. Neville and doggie continue to live in Greenwich Village, spending their days gathering vegetables from a Times Square garden, hunting deer in Midtown, and trapping vampires for Neville's experimental "cures" for the virus. Their nights are spent bunkered down in Neville's Washington Square brownstone (I guess military science pays pretty well), staying low and out of sight from the "darkstalkers" (the vampires).

The first half of the movie is really well done. The deserted NYC is well portrayed, although I thought some things were in too good shape - I would have expected a lot more deterioration, but what the heck do I know? Regardless, the total absence of humans is eerie as hell. Smith does a convincing job of portraying a man who's gone a little crazy from the solitude.

An early sequence, where Neville goes after his dog into a dark, spooky warehouse, scared the crap out of me. It was an example of outstanding film-making and acting. Neville came across as a real human, albeit a lot braver than I would have been. I would have stayed at the door and hollered "Sam!" until I was hoarse. No way I would have gone into the bowels of the building after her!

The "darkstalkers" were disappointing. Sort of grown-up versions of Gollum from Lord of the Rings, they were nothing like the thinking, speaking, plotting "hemocytes" of Protosevich's screenplay. At least one of them appears to have some feelings (his mate (?) is a less-than-willing subject of one of Neville's experiments) and some inclination to revenge, but he in no way resembles "Cortman" from the screenplay.

The second half of the movie lost me. While I thought Smith's character's actions were explainable and consistent, he became much less sympathetic and heroic. If he's truly a "legend", and has already exhibited some larger-than-life capabilities, I thought he would have acted more, well, "legendary".

My first thought when the credits ran was "bummer". Perhaps the screenplay raised my expectations too high. Regardless, it's worth a checkout when it hits cable or Netflix, but I wouldn't pay full price to see it.

Which is a disappointment of the highest order.

No comments: