MOVIE REVIEW- Last man: Bigger budget and 36 months later
Whatever you've said you would or wouldn't do to Will Smith if he were the last man on Earth, now's your chance. For much of I Am Legend he appears to be the last uninfected human after a virus kills 90 percent of the population and transforms most of the rest into "Dark Seekers," who prey vampire-like at night.
Lt. Col. Robert Neville (Smith) happens to be immune to the virus (could an AIDS analogy be intended?), which was developed in 2009 as a cure for cancer and was briefly celebrated before the side effects became apparent. (Emma Thompson appears in the opening scene as Dr. Krippen, for whom the deadly virus will be named. Talk about a cure being worse than the disease!) Robert is still dedicated to finding a cure and saving the human race, if only so he'll have some company besides his faithful dog Sam.
Robert spends his days roaming with Sam, hunting the deer that now run freely through the streets, but never shooting any. (He has lots of packaged goods at home, but has he checked the expiration dates?) He broadcasts an announcement that he'll be at a set location every day at midday in case there are other survivors who want to hook up. At night he and Sam hunker down in their Washington Square townhouse. It's been fortified against the beasties, which can be heard outside.
Because there has to be some action, there are occasional confrontations, as when Sam runs into a dark warehouse in the daytime and Robert has to go after him. There are also some flashbacks to the night Manhattan was officially sealed off in an effort to contain the plague. Only uninfected people, including Robert's wife (Salli Richardson) and child (Willow Smith), are allowed to leave. The exodus is reminiscent of War of the Worlds.
The best thing about I Am Legend is the production design, which shows what might happen to Manhattan if no people lived there for three years. Broadway musical fans will want to know that according to Times Square billboards, Rent, Wicked, Hairspray, Avenue Q, Legally Blonde and The Producers were still running at the end. There's also a poster for "Justice League of America," but is it the Cartoon Network series or the feature film currently scheduled for 2010 release?
If the deserted city scenes look familiar, they may be reminding you of 28 Days Later, which showed a deserted London. This is the same idea on a bigger budget. The plots are similar too, although I Am Legend is based on the 1954 novel of that name by Richard Matheson. It was filmed twice before under different titles, with Vincent Price (The Last Man on Earth) and Charlton Heston (The Omega Man).
Despite best efforts to keep it moving, the movie is too suggestive of the monotony Robert's life must be. Relief finally shows up in the persons of a mother (Alice Braga) and son (Charlie Tahan), fellow survivors looking for more, again recalling 28 Days Later.
Will Smith is a victim of his own success. As the go-to guy for Fourth of July movies, and more recently Christmas movies, he's set the bar too high to just tell a nice little story. Fans may be surprised that I Am Legend runs well under two hours, yet seems unduly padded (a scene from Shrek, an extended tribute to Bob Marley, etc.).
Director Francis Lawrence made the similarly decent but unmemorable Constantine a couple of years ago. You won't hate I Am Legend, but you wouldn't want it to be the last movie on Earth either.