I Am Legend–the new film with Will Smith and the first I’ve seen in a theater for maybe a year–starts out as pure Hollywood blockbuster schlock, with Smith barreling around the empty streets of New York in a sports car. He flushes herds of deer out from the jumble of abandoned automobiles, drives alongside the fleeing beasts at, like, 80 miles per hour (these being, apparently, post-apocalyptic turbo-charged deer), and takes potshots at them out the window with a high powered rifle, presumably in an effort to rustle up some grub. Like much of the movie, it is exciting, and cool, and scary … so long as you don’t accidentally think about the situation. Then you are, like, “why doesn’t he just park the car, walk a block, and shoot one of the many deer that are just standing around Time’s Square?” The inescapable conclusion is that Smith doesn’t do so because it wouldn’t take $85 million dollars to film such a scene, and the producers of Legend seem intent of squeezing as much cash into this film as they can (though another thirty bucks toward making the CGI look smoother woulda been nice).
So I set my phasers to “dumb” and settle in for some mindless entertainment–just as the film becomes surprisingly ponderous. Alternating between footage of Smith and his faithful dog battling monsters and loneliness in the present, and flashbacks showing how the world came to be depopulated, the second act of Legend is a philosophical, big-budget amalgamation of 28 Days Later, Resident Evil, and Children of Men. Which is to say that there is little new here, plot-wise (even though the source material, Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, predates all the aforementioned movies about half a century), it is at least well done. And, of course, Smith is a fine actor, able to hold his own even when his only co-stars are German Shepherds, mannequins, and mutants.
But then, about two-thirds of the way through the film, there is what appears to be a three minute commercial for Shrek, a scene involving the animated DVD that just goes on and on. I assumed this was just another product placement (such as the Apple products that Smith routinely depends on), albeit a particularly long, blatantly, and egregious one. A little Googling after I got home from the movie found no evidence of this, though: the two films were made by different studios, and there were no reports of money changing hands so that Shrek would get plugged in Smith’s new film. But, really, that makes the scene even more unforgivable. And least product placement, evil though it might be, justified such a bizarre and jarring detour.
And the film never really recovers after that. Having lost its stride, it just sort of stumbles on for the remaining 30 minutes before collapsing over the finish line. Here again, as in the opening, the movie’s worst enemy is thought on the part of the audience, a moment of which reveals that Legend’s finale doesn’t make a whit of sense. Too bad. Taken with the many other films that have told this same story recently, and you’re left with a film that would have been more aptly titled I Am Forgettable.
Warning: I discuss the end of the film in the comments.