Put your faith in Will Smith and by his sacrifice ye will be reborn.
That's the message of "Seven Pounds," as it was of Smith's 2007 Christmas season gift-of-self, "I Am Legend," the title of which seems increasingly revealing: Not content with being America's box office savior (he's the only actor to star in eight consecutive films that have grossed more than $100 million in the U.S.), Smith wants to be admired as a heroic and transformative cultural figure, like the uniter-of-races whose popularity he presaged, Barack Obama. (Didn't "Hancock" end with Smith as the guardian of America, promising us the benefit of his eagle eye?)
John Beifuss reviews three new movies this week, Seven Pounds, Yes Man, and Slumdog Millonaire. Watch »
Ben Thomas, an IRS agent with a fateful secret, embarks on an extraordinary journey of redemption by forever changing the lives of seven strangers.
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, some disturbing content and a scene of sensuality
Length: 118 minutes
Released: December 19, 2008 Nationwide
Cast: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Barry Pepper, Madison Pettis
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Writer: Grant Nieporte
The latest exhibit for canonization, "Seven Pounds," casts the would-be St. Smith as Ben Thomas, a character who wants to "heal the soul" (figuratively, at least) and inspire those he meets to "live life abundantly," to quote two admiring comments.
Armed with good manners, a nice suit, an apparently dark secret and an IRS agent's badge, Ben is an "auditor," get it? He's on an initially mysterious mission to audit the goodness as well as the finances of the needy people he visits, including a kids' hockey coach, a desperate single mother and "a blind beef salesman who doesn't eat meat" (Woody Harrelson, in the year's most unbelievable role).
This Mr. Perfect -- whose polite mien hides a heart of sorrow, making him all the more attractive -- will rescue you from financial ruin. He'll also save you from an abusive relationship, pull your weeds, repair your antique printing press, appreciate your eggplant Parmesan, comically imitate Minnie Riperton and sign over to you his seaside estate, complete with terraced gardens. (You may stop cheering when the property-tax bill arrives.) He'll even give you his heart -- literally, if that's what's required.
He's more likely to do many of these things if you look like Rosario Dawson, and -- in time-honored movie tradition -- you have no boyfriend or even friends to complicate a relationship, even though you're smart, beautiful and artistic. (At this point, cynics may think: Having the ability to control the financial future of a seriously ill young woman sure is a good way to get her into bed!)
The film wastes little time in disabusing viewers of the notion that it's supposed to be just another entertainment. "Seven Pounds" begins with narration that connects screenwriter Grant Nieporte's story to -- well, the very origin of existence! "In seven days, God created the world," Ben intones. "And in seven seconds I shattered mine." Dang, Ben, you make God look like a slacker!
Probably the first movie in history to contain a suicide-by-jellyfish sequence, "Seven Pounds" is beautifully photographed (by Philippe Le Sourd) and impeccably produced. The director is Gabriele Muccino, who in 2006 helmed a more persuasive exercise in Smithian look-at-me selflessness, "The Pursuit of Happyness." As he did with "Happyness," Muccino gives the big-budget "Seven Pounds" a gritty, near-indie look, but he can't cleanse it of its sanctimony or faux-inspirational phoniness. Nor does he relieve it of its grim dullness.
A sort of "21 Grams" for the mainstream, the narrative is intentionally fractured and withholding. Most of the revelations aren't likely to surprise attentive viewers, however, making "Seven Pounds" as interminable as it is specious.
-- John Beifuss: 529-2394