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Vol. LXI, No. 52
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

THERE MUST BE SOME WAY TO COUNTER THE VACCINE’S EFFECTS: Lt. Col. Robert Neville (Will Smith) is a virologist who happens to have a completely equipped research laboratory in the basement of his Manhattan apartment. He is desperately trying to find an antidote for the vaccine which precipitated the horrible epidemic gripping the world.

I Am Legend: Will Smith Is Last Man on Earth in Science-Fiction Adventure

Kam Williams

Written by Richard Matheson in 1954, I Am Legend is a harrowing tale of survival in which the last living human is pitted against a horde of bloodthirsty vampires who have taken control of Earth. The book’s hero, Robert Neville, relies on a combination of garlic, mirrors, stakes, sunlight, and crosses to keep the monsters at bay while he tries to come up with an explanation for the plague which has turned everybody else into zombies.

The Last Man on Earth (1964), starring Vincent Price, was the first film adaptation of the bestseller. That, in turn, was followed by The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston and, more recently, I Am Omega (2007), a video released just last month.

Now, we have I Am Legend, a modern update of the original which reflects present-day sensibilities by having the plague being caused by a man-made virus. The picture is a Will Smith vehicle because he spends more than half of the movie on the screen alone, unless you count the omnipresent Samantha, his faithful German Shepherd.

The production is a test of Smith’s star power, because the film’s success depends on his ability to engage the audience as he wanders through the eerie exoskeleton of a depopulated Manhattan. The point of departure is 2009, which is when Dr. Alice Crippen (Emma Thompson) announces to the world that she has developed a vaccine that will cure cancer, not realizing that it also causes rabies.

Fast forward three years, and we find New York in chaos. The few healthy people are being quickly evacuated, while all the infected people are morphing into ghouls and being left behind. Although Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville (Smith) has been given a clean bill of health, he gallantly opts to stay in the city to work on an antidote.

Fortunately, Neville is a virologist and has a fully-equipped state-of-the-art lab in the basement of his house. So, after he tearfully sends his wife (Salli Richardson) and daughter (Willow Smith) to safety, he divides his time between search for a cure and fighting off the nocturnal creatures he encounters.

Will Smith comes across as quite the macho charmer in his familiar role as the hero entrusted to save the planet. After all, he’s successfully played this sort of character plenty of times before, most notably in Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997) and Men in Black II (2002).

I Am Legend is at its best early in the film when Will’s character is starkly filmed against the vast urban wasteland. Unfortunately, the second-rate special effects leave a lot to be desired, so the cheesy monsters he has to wrestle with fail to measure up to the expectations built up in first part of the film.

The movie has two other annoying flaws, neither of which can be discussed without spoiling the film. The first involves the introduction of two new characters near the end, and the other revolves around the movie’s revised resolution which delivers a distinctly different message from that of the book.

Nonetheless, it’s got a great performance by Will Smith and just enough edge-of-your-seat entertainment to be recommended, even if the cinematic house of cards collapses towards the end.

Good (2 stars). Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction action and mature themes. Running time: 100 minutes. Studio: Warner Brothers.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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