Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Fresh Prince of Manhattan

“I Am Legend”
2 ½ stars out of Four

My appreciation for Will Smith has come a long way from back when I first ordered “…And in This Corner” from the BMG Music Service (and sold it off a few years later). When you see him in “Pursuit of Happyness”, it’s hard to even remember he used to call himself “The Fresh Prince”.

Even though “I Am Legend” gives the impression that it’s supposed to be more of a sci-fi/horror movie instead of a character piece, it’s Smith’s acting that surprised me and made me ultimately enjoy the film. It was definitely as scary and intense as people described, the special effects used to make New York look overgrown and deserted were great, and the opening shot of Smith cruising in a Mustang at high speed through Manhattan was totally appropriate (Charleton Heston does the same thing in “The Omega Man”, which is the 70’s version of the same story by Richard Matheson).

But I think Smith really makes this movie. He really seems to be living the situation—he’s the last man alive in New York City after a super-virus wipes out 90% of the population—kind of like Tom Hanks in “Castaway”, except that Smith gets to talk to a real dog instead of a volleyball.

(Actually, Smith does talk to mannequins he has distributed around town in random locations, which at first you think is just a joke, then you realize he is really getting close to la-la-land.)

Smith may be the only man left in New York, but he’s not the only resident. 9% of the population got turned into zombies by the virus (think “28 Days Later”), and the zombies run the town when the sun goes down. (The zombies can’t be exposed to sunlight, which kind of makes them vampire-zombies…or Michael Jackson.)

Here lies my only gripe. I loved the story, the acting, the cinematography, and especially the sparse Bob Marley soundtrack (perfectly timed with my recent Reggae phase). But the CGI zombies look bad. They scare you when you first see them, but when you get a better look at the animation—and the now-cliched “extending lower jaw effect”—the impact loses its steam, and you wish that at least for the close-ups, the director would have used real people in makeup. (Again, think “28 Days Later”).

If it wasn’t for that, I would have absolutely loved this movie. As it is, it stands as another potentially awesome flick that got undermined by everyone’s continued infatuation with all things computer-generated.

Too bad.

“I Am Legend” is rated PG-13 for some swears, Will Smith shooting his guns a lot, the CGI zombies, and this bit where a lion wanders through town and eats a deer.