Dying of deja vu

I Am Legend Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Salli Richardson, Dash Mihok, Charlie Tahan, Willow Smith; Dir: Francis Lawrence; Cert: 15; 1hr 40mIf you have seen Charlton Heston's 1971 film The Omega Man or Danny Boyle's evocative zombie thriller 28 Days Later then you have seen I Am Legend - the new film from Will Smith.

Andrew Clarke

I Am Legend Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Salli Richardson, Dash Mihok, Charlie Tahan, Willow Smith; Dir: Francis Lawrence; Cert: 15; 1hr 40m

If you have seen Charlton Heston's 1971 film The Omega Man or Danny Boyle's evocative zombie thriller 28 Days Later then you have seen I Am Legend - the new film from Will Smith.

Obviously the youth of America hasn't clapped eyes on either movie because they turned out in their millions to make I Am Legend the biggest opening ever in the US in December. In the opening three days last weekend the sight of Will Smith wandering the lonely, empty street of New York with his dog earned a staggering $76.5m - a new box office record and confirmation that Will Smith is the most popular film star on the planet.


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Will Smith is a very charismatic actor, he would have to be, because for about 80% of the film he is the only person on screen. After a while it's a bit like One Man And His Dog. We get to see snatches of the recent past in dream-like flashbacks but we never really get any substance - we don't really know what's happening.

It seems that New York, and we suppose most of the east coast/country, has been laid waste by a mystery virus which has been developed out of a cure for cancer. This information is supplied by an uncredited Emma Thompson turning up for a fleeting appearance on TV to say that science has cured nature's most prevalent killer - but there are unseen side effects.

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The virus causes human beings to mutate and become ravenous, cannibalistic monsters who cannot bear daylight.

Not only have we seen all this twice before, and done better, but the whole plot is full of holes. It is clear from what Will Smith says to his dog Sam that after three years alone, he now regards himself as the last person left alive - and yet he is determined to find a cure. The question remains why? It is clear that Will's character Robert Neville is immune from the virus and yet he is driven to find a cure. For those of you wondering why he is immune we are never told. I suspect that may become clear we gain access to the deleted scenes on the DVD.

But to give the film its due, the opening hour is quite atmospheric and the scenes of New York quiet and overgrown is very eerie. But, by about half way through the film starts to lose its way. It's by then that the feeling of déjà vu becomes really overwhelming and by the time the flesh-eating zombies start lurching out of the shadows then your interest falls away remarkably quickly.

The problem is that director Francis Lawrence hasn't done anything different with the story. There's nothing new on show. It's a paint-by-numbers re-run of those earlier, much more attention-grabbing movies.

There's a slight flicker of interest when Anna (Alice Braga) and young survivor Ethan (Charlie Tahan) turn up from the country but as Manhattan has been isolated - you see all the bridges being destroyed - you have to wonder how they get there. Also if you have seen 28 Days Later you can also predict with ease how the film ends up.

You have to wonder why this film got made. Maybe the Americans have forgotten Omega Man. Maybe the young audiences didn't get to see 28 Days Later or maybe couldn't relate to it because it was set in London and not New York but for whatever reason, the film has been made (again) and has been a huge hit.

I, meanwhile, am left scratching my head and wondering why. It's not a bad film but you cannot escape the fact that we have seen it all before.

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