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I Am Legend

By Harry Forbes
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- At the start of "I Am Legend" (Warner Bros.), a grim but effective thriller, Emma Thompson, in a delicious cameo, plays a self-satisfied doctor informing an incredulous news interviewer that she has found the cure for cancer.

Next comes a quick cut to shots of New York devoid of any life except, it seems, Robert Neville, a dedicated military virologist (Will Smith) and his faithful German shepherd, Samantha. Clearly, Thompson's miracle cure has gone wildly wrong.

Neville is the last surviving person in New York. He still has his Washington Square Park house but, as we learn in brief flashbacks, there had been a mass evacuation (for healthy people only) of the city, and Neville had sent his wife and child to presumed safety.

As he drives along the empty streets talking to himself and the dog to keep his sanity, he encounters wild (digitalized) deer, ferocious mad dogs and human mutants who can spring forth without warning.

He captures one such creature, ties her down to a table in his lab, and injects her with the serum he has been developing, but to no effect.

He leaves video and audio diaries of his activities, and periodically sends out radio transmissions in the hope someone will hear his reports.

Needless to say, the attacks by the mutant humans escalate as the film progresses, but Neville perseveres. And we hope it's not too much of a spoiler to reveal that eventually Neville will encounter two other survivors: a woman named Anna (Alice Braga) and a child (Charlie Tahan).

Director Francis Lawrence's adaptation of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel (already filmed twice as "The Last Man on Earth" in 1964 and "The Omega Man" in 1971) has some truly eerie -- and finely done -- scenes of a decimated New York, and the computer-generated images of mutants are scary enough when they come.

Smith is, as always, a compelling presence, but the basic setup ultimately grows tiresome and more depressing than exciting, with even the ending fairly downbeat.

From the Catholic standpoint, there are some pointed and admirable spiritual elements. In the midst of the evacuation, with helicopter blades churning and thousands of panicked people hysterical to leave the city, the family says a prayer. Later, when driven to despair, Neville has a severe crisis of faith and denies the existence of God, but predictably undergoes a turnaround before the final fade-out.

The film contains intense, if isolated, violent sequences, including the killing of the creatures, and scantily clad mutants. It might be acceptable for older teens. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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Forbes is director of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.


Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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