When the world around us seems to tumble and fall into deeper and darker lows we reach out for help and hope, for a savior, for a sign that things can change. It seems that this season, presentations of goodwill and good fortune are coming to the fore in Hollywood. Some are great successes and some are, well, not so much.
Seven Pounds is the latest Will Smith vehicle. The man has championed and seemingly looks to close to conquering the isolated, underdog hero roles for the family movie market but in his latest effort things get a little darker. He plays Ben Thomas, a former engineer for NASA who, predictably enough for Smith, charms and cheers everybody in his path, going beyond the calls of civic duty to right wrongs and uplift the underprivileged. But and heres the twist underneath the veneer he has a secret.
At first we suspect he is some sort of guardian angel, a supernatural purveyor of goodwill through unconventional methods. But not all is well; Ben Thomas is overwrought with regret and remorse over the sudden passing of his wife. The grief leaves him empty and hardened so to rise out of his depression he embarks on a singular mission of redemption; to make life worth living for a handful of struggling urban dwellers, giving away his time, money and possessions.
Smith, also producing, is collaborating again with The Pursuit of Happyness director Gabriele Muccino and expectations are high. But the warm and sentimental tone of their previous movie is here stuck like a limpet to a narrative that at first might seem intriguing and intelligent but rapidly becomes a bloated beast for even the most mawkish cinemagoers.
The feeble, sinewy, saccharine mess is strewn with the cheesiest of lines (I want to report a suicide mine), implausible plot revelations, underdeveloped storylines and characters we arent allowed to follow or understand (Woody Harrelson is sorely underused). There are scenes of such unrivalled clich set in fields of waving wheat that the sounds of communal retching may drown out the odd and distracting choices in soundtrack.
Though for all this, the acting is not too bad and the direction itself not a disaster but unusually, the less said of khaki-slack clad Smith staring weepy-eyed into the ocean, the better. Its not that Smith isnt up to the job but he is trying so very hard to look concentrated, confused and afraid that his earnest expressions look childish. An understated performance would have been better, if less easily marketable.
Rosario Dawson, as the love interest who penetrates his tough exterior, makes it more difficult for him to be impersonal with his beneficiaries and surprisingly has a performance that reigns in the superfluous schmaltz.
A noble effort at another Will Smith martyr movie with a melancholy touch, oblique and cloying Seven Pounds will split opinion even amongst those who are Notebookangelists. It is emotionally manipulative using well-rehearsed sentimental trickery and if you are looking to be firmly cajoled into tear jerks this January you probably need not look any further. Otherwise get ready for the Razzies.