For the past decade, Will Smith has battled aliens, robots, killer sharks and . . . George Foreman and managed to make it all look good. In his latest film, Smith brings his A-game but unfortunately he’s working with a C-minus script in the disappointing, “I Am Legend.”
Based on the 1954 book, “I Am Legend,” Smith’s film is the third retelling of this classic story. First came the 1964 film, “The Last Man on Earth,” which was later remade in 1971 as “The Omega Man.” Like the previous two films, one man survives a viral attack but must battle isolation and loneliness while searching for a cure during the day and staying away from mysterious “darkseekers” when the sun goes down.
It takes someone with plenty of screen charisma and a certain amount of confidence to play a role where you have to carry a movie alone for close to an hour. Smith is more than capable and he does a wonderful and credible job tapping into his inner “Castaway” Tom Hanks.”
His Neville is a detailed-oriented routine driven man who shares his day with his lone companion, a dog name Sam and participates in any number of activities from hunting deer (in midtown Manhattan), checking out new DVDs or using an aircraft carrier as a driving range.
While he may be the last human, he’s not alone. During a hunting expedition, his companion is trapped in a building with a horde of the terrifying darkseekers and this encounter will accelerate until the film’s explosive end. Smith tries valiantly to give his character some meaning and depth but the screenplay undermines him at every turn placing him situations that make little or no sense.
You want to root for Will; you want him to succeed but the longer the film goes, the less you seem to care. After one particularly emotional scene, Neville attempts to take himself out only to be shown once again that hope springs eternal. For him to have hope, yet choose to ignore that in an explosive finale is one of the film’s greatest weaknesses.
Smith has done well picking roles that fit his sensibilities. Unfortunately, finding a good role doesn’t help if the script doesn’t match the performance. Instead of focusing on his believable performance, audiences will probably be thinking that “I Am Legend” is just another “legendary” miss for Smith.