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Photograph by Barry Wetcher, SMPSP
A LAST MAN ON EARTH'S BEST FRIEND: Will Smith's Robert Neville has only Samantha to keep him company in 'I Am Legend.'

No Fangs

Will Smith actually likes being the only human left around in 'I Am Legend'

By Richard von Busack

THERE IS a problem in casting Will Smith as the last man on Earth. As an actor, Smith has always given the impression that being the last man on Earth would be OK by him. Ever since he became a megastar, Smith is not a great reactor to the presence of other actors. In one CGI-laden spectacle after another, Smith seems the most computer-generated character of them all. In I Am Legend, it takes a really sensitive and liquid-eyed German shepherd to wake him up. In the near future, a vaccine mutates and gets loose in Manhattan. To contain the threat, the military blows up the bridges, but it's too late. Most of the world dies; a few turn into light-shunning blood hunters who look very much like steroidal versions of The Weekly World News' mascot Bat Boy. These bald teeth gnashers riot every night. In his townhouse fortress near Washington Square Park, a military officer, Robert Neville (Smith), keeps watch and works on a cure. In daylight, he and Samantha the dog go on patrol searching for nests of these monsters and doing a little inept hunting for venison. The patrols wear on Neville, and he starts to crack after he is injured in a death trap by the creatures. Then from out of nowhere comes a survivor, Anna, played by Sonia Braga's unfortunately not-look-alike niece Alice, who comes to free Neville from his freedom. The most affecting moments are the scenes of a deserted Manhattan in 2012. The city is reverting to forest, with deer bounding over the cracked windshields of abandoned cars and diving into tunnels (something a smart deer wouldn't do). The towers of Manhattan are crumbling, though still bearing a few signs of things to come. As critic Peter Cavanese notes, one of these is the billboard for World's Finest, or whatever else they'll call the Batman-Superman team-up film when it comes. Batman steals a lot of I Am Legend's thunder. The film is billed with a seven-minute preview of The Dark Knight on IMAX screens, and regular theaters are showing coming attractions for next summer's bat fiesta.

Francis Lawrence oversees a series of inexpertly directed attacks interrupted with flashbacks; the script is credited to repeat offenders Akiva Goldsman and Mark Protosevich (Poseidon, The Cell). They bring nothing really new to the table, nor do they provide any significant echoes of the racial tensions and American guilt in The Omega Man, the 1974 Charlton Heston version of Richard Matheson's novel. The original book contains some fascinating material that probably will never be filmed, such as a discourse on why vampires are afraid of the cross. Instead, Lawrence goes for the crowd pleaser of bellowing monsters attacking a besieged hero. It's all another video game. The ending is the most noteworthy part of I Am Legend. The film takes a swan dive into calculated, scornfully directed religious whackadooism, including such elements as sacred blood, a call to faith and a Monty Python–style holy hand grenade. What hell-creature dares trespass against the sanctity of a gated community, especially one guarded with the American flag and the church steeple? Where I Am Legend ends, The Handmaid's Tale begins.

Movie Times I AM LEGEND (PG-13; 101 min.), directed by Francis Lawrence, written by Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Richard Matheson, photographed by Andrew Lesnie and starring Will Smith, plays valleywide.

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