Home » Movie Reviews

I Am Legend

2 February 2009 by Baldy No Comment

My sixteen year old went to see I Am Legend last week and raved about it. Tonight, my brain hurt and I had time on my hands and a buddy from work offered to buy, so we took off for a little escapism.

First, though. . . PREVIEWS!

SEMI-PRO – Will Farrell has found his niche, and that niche is in the seventies. He’s playing the owner of a B-rate basketball team that might get absorbed by the NBA. It also has Woody Harrelson. It might be funny. Rental, or maybe a dollar movie with my wife.
YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN – Adam Sandler plays the Israeli military’s top man. He quits that gig in favor of moving to New York to become a hairdresser. Rob Schneider predictably plays an Arab who recognizes him and wants to destroy him. This is going to be puerile and funny as hell. Big screen movie, but only on guys’ night out. This movie also holds the odd distinction of being the first in which Adam Sandler looks handsome in a non-goofy way.
JUMPER – Hayden Christensen finds out that he can teleport. Samuel M.F. Jackson knows about it and calls him on it. Remember the Nightcrawler in the White House sequence from X-Men 2? Try that, but with teleporters all over the place trying to get each other. Looks very cool. I’ll see this at the dollar movie, if only to be able to watch it on the big screen.
WELCOME HOME ROSCOE JENKINS – Sweet Home Alabama for black guys. Martin Lawrence is still funny, but I keep thinking that most of the gags in this definite stinker were already done by Eddie Murphy in a dozen previous films. No big screen, no rental. I will not do anything to encourage this kind of crappy moviemaking.
10,000 B.C. – Big Screen. Holy shit. Sabre-toothed tigers and wooly mammoths and people with spears. These are a few of my favorite things. . .
THE DARK KNIGHT – The follow-up to BATMAN BEGINS looks incredible. Christian Bale is back as Gotham’s nocturnal, violent conscience and Heath Ledger joins us with a new take on the Joker. He looks like raw evil. This is going to be phenomenal.

And now, our feature motion picture!

I’ll give it to you in the short, short version. Emma Thompson thought that she cured cancer, but she wound up creating an incredibly contagious disease that kills 90% of the world’s population. It makes its victims into something between rabies victims, vampires and zombies. Rabies, vampires and zombies – yeah, that’ll make up for watching the Meg Ryan film with your wife. The 10% of humanity who survived were all killed by the infected, except for the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (as portrayed by Muhammad Ali of Men In Black fame). He was a soldier/scientist who was trying to find the cure, and that’s what he is still doing three years later. He is immune to the disease and is trying to create a cure using serums based in his own blood. They spend a lot of time showing you what happens to the mind of the last man on Earth.

Okay, first things first. Will Smith does an admirable job. I generally like his movies, but that’s normally because I’m watching them over a tub of popcorn with the kids. I don’t usually look to Smith for great dramatic performances, but (and I hate to say this) perhaps I should. He’s not Sir Lawrence Olivier. What I think he does extremely well is show a man balanced on the razor’s edge, teetering between insanity and duty. He shows a perfectly sane man who continues to do his duty every day, taking care of business. . . while conversing with mannequins. He managed to pull off delivering dialogue that should be schlock, but instead sounds like the only thing that he COULD say in the circumstances. He has killed scores of rabid vampire zombies while trying to effect a cure, but he saves them when he can. All of the caring and love that is left in him was poured into his dog Sam, and Smith really conveys a level of connection that is beyond what most pet owners can understand. He shows us that the infection and mass deaths are personal for him. Not only was he supposed to keep the outbreak from happening in the first place, but his immunity allows/forces him to watch as everyone around him succumbs to the virus. I was impressed. I don’t know why that surprises me, after the performances Smith put in with Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. I knew that he had it in him.

The plot is somewhat predictable, but the good part of the movie is the HOW. It’s not what happens that makes it interesting to watch, it’s the way that they show it to you. We only see what happened three years ago through flashbacks and dreams, but those glimpses are only granted in very small doses and last throughout the film. There is no love interest. There is just a man and his dog. He’s trying to find a cure, and the people he’s trying to cure A) don’t want to be cured, B) want to kill him, and C) are beginning to show signs of free will again. The fact that someone decided to make something that probably ought to be an action movie and dwell instead on character is noteworthy. It’s not brilliant, but it’s damned interesting to watch.

The movie doesn’t dwell overly on special effects. You may have seen the opening five minutes on Yahoo! or Worst Previews, but that doesn’t really reflect well on the rest of the movie. Most of the movie has nothing to do with effects. This shows unusual restraint and judgement on the part of the filmmakers. It would have been very easy to rely on the effects to wow the audience without showing them any real substance. Unfortunately, this resolve seems to wear away about halfway through the film. While half-caught glimpses out of the corner of the eye can terrify, showing us the rabid vampire zombies as much as they did kind of dilutes the effect. I think the tone of the film would have been better served with a “less is more” approach, but I was not consulted. Unfortunately, the director also seems to have enjoyed The Mummy (Brendan Fraser version). The rabid vampire zombies are constantly seen yelling with their jaws stretched inhumanly far open. Nifty effect, but it took away from the realism. I think that jaws opening that wide should show cheeks tearing from the effort. Don’t just make them open wide because you think it looks cool. Make there be a REASON for this, or leave it out!

Finally, I have to commend them on the use of music. It would have been easy to overdo it, to hit us with constant riffs (see Danny Elfman’s Batman score for an example) and to lead us through musical trills and variations on a theme. Instead, the only music that the movie left with me was Bob Marley. One song in particular shows up several times, but only on occasions that truly warrant it. Instead of being cheesy, it was moving to see Will Smith sitting on the floor, crying and singing softly, “Every little thing is gonna be alright. . . ”

For once, I won’t give spoilers. I’ll just say that this is the closest thing to an intelligent zombie flick that you’re likely to see for a while. Other than the shortcomings mentioned above, the movie doesn’t assume that the audience is there for cheap thrills, shiny things, loud noises and flashy blood shots. It tells the story of a man, and makes it compelling without dwelling too much on the superficial. Incidentally, if parents want to know if it’s okay for the kids, I would say that it is – with a caveat. It has some scary images and some horrible things happen, but there is no sex, no memorably bad language. I won’t have a problem letting my youngest see it. See this on the big screen. It’s worth it.

Comments are closed.