Monday, December 24, 2007

Almost 'Legend'ary

*** out of ****

Is it me or does every film set in the future have some sort of apocalyptic theme to it?

In "I Am Legend," the desolation is set in not-so-far-off 2012. From the first few scenes of the movie it is not hard to tell that something huge has happened to New York City.

Will Smith stars as Robert Neville, the last man alive in a deserted Manhattan. Weeds are growing out of the streets, the Brooklyn Bridge is dilapidated, lions and other zoo animals are prowling about, but everything else lies still. Come nighttime, however, the streets are alive -- or to be more precise, undead.

How did this come about? We cut to one of many appropriately placed flashbacks. It is 2009. While things look normal, there are some alarming changes taking place -- gas hitting a bit south of $7 per gallon and a cure for cancer has been found. The miracle cure's side effects, however, are more than just a headache.

The people given the revolutionary cure develop a virus, eventually turning into creatures that look like zombies with hairless pasty-gray skin and dilated pupils. Their vampire-like characteristics include feeding on blood and burning in the light. These primitive and aggressive people are called "dark seekers." The virus is transmitted through the air and during attacks from the monsters.

Neville, a scientist who helped with the cure, leads the chaotic evacuation/quarantine for New York City, aka ground zero. Events go terribly awry when his wife and daughter die along with others as the unstoppable virus wipes out humanity.

Immune to the virus, Robert's only companion is his dog Samantha. Living in a barricaded safe house, Robert works hard to find a cure for the virus using his immune blood when he's not out searching for survivors. He also broadcasts signals on the radio alerting possible survivors about where to meet up with him.

Racing against the clock to find a cure, with the dark seekers waiting for him to make a fatal error, the supposed "last man on earth" may not be alone after all.

Based on the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, "I Am Legend" is the third film incarnation. The first was 1964's "The Last Man on Earth," starring Vincent Price, followed in 1971 by "The Omega Man," starring Charlton Heston.

The opening special effects are impressive. Seeing a deserted, rundown New York City with wild animals racing between abandoned cars is a spectacle. Later scenes are dicey at best. The dark seekers are effective but look as if they belong in a video game rather than a big-budget sci-fi horror film.

As far as acting goes, the one person that gets the credit (and there really only is one person to give it to other than a loveable dog), is superstar Will Smith. Smith is brilliant and makes "Legend" captivating. Showing paranoia, fear, loneliness and the willingness to survive and strive for a cure, Smith captures the audience's hearts as the hero, but also as a villain for having taken part in the virus' creation.

This is the second feature film for music-video-directing star Francis Lawrence. His first film was the passable comic book adaptation of "Constantine." While "Legend" is an improvement (Lawrence shows that he can create effective atmosphere full of many heart-racing, seat-jumping scary moments that leave shivers), Lawrence still needs to work on covering plot holes.
Most of the questionable consequences of a disaster you can shrug off, but you can't help wondering how there's electricity with no generators.

Not quite legendary, "I Am Legend" does make a name for itself.

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