I Am Legend *** (out of ****)

Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman based on a novel by Richard Matheson
Cast: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Salli
Richardson-Whitffield, Willow Smith
Rating: PG-13 (intense sci-fi violence)
Running Time: 101 min
Release Date: 12/14/07

I Am Legend is an example of a good actor saving a film based on a rather over worn plot. It seems that a doctor as developed a cure for cancer based on a genetically engineered virus. At first this “cure” was hailed as a miracle but then it turned into plague. Nearly everyone who contracted it died. They were the lucky ones. Almost all of the rest turned into carnivorous zombies. A rare few were immune. One of the latter was Lt. Col. Robert Neville (Will Smith) an army doctor and viral researcher.

Legend is the third film based on the Richard Matheson novel by the same title. The previous versions were The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971). The plot has been updated to incorporate more recent biotech advances. Really this is a biotech variation on the vampire movie.

From all we can tell for much of the movie, Neville may be the last man alive. He drives through an unpopulated New York City a few years after the disaster. Weeds have pushed up through the pavement and deer run wild through the streets. Neville has only his trusted companion, a German Shepard named Sam, to keep him company. His life consists of hunting for food, broadcasting to the world daily the location of a meeting place for any survivors, and conducting research on cure for the virus in his basement lab.

In one early scene, he is hunting deer with his M-4 carbine only to have a pride of lions, presumably escapees from the city zoo, get the deer first. In a live and let live attitude he let’s the lions have the prey rather than firing on them to get it himself. But, every night he locks himself into his house before dark as the infected zombies, like vampires, only come out at night.

Will Smith’s role is reminiscent of that played by Tom Hanks in Castaway. However, in this film instead of a volleyball named Wilson, he has several manikins to keep him company. Neville’s routine existence is disrupted when the zombies use one of his manikins to bait a trap for him. This results in the death of his dog. Neville’s underlying tension is released in fury of irrational action as events spiral into an ultimately hopeful finale.

The strong performance of Will Smith and the great background effects of a post-apocalyptic New York make this film a gripping experience. Regular viewers of the Sci-Fi Channel will find this a treat.

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