Movie review by Greg Carlson
With the release of “Seven Pounds,” superstar Will Smith earns the distinction of appearing in two of the year’s worst films. Along with “Hancock,” “Seven Pounds” makes a strong case that the charismatic performer has been taking ego-inflation lessons from pal Tom Cruise. Even so, Smith did not attain his global entertainment clout by being stupid, and he has thus far managed to insulate his persona from harm even when the films in which he appears smell like sewage. Reunited with director Gabriele Muccino, who fared better with “The Pursuit of Happyness,” Smith assumes the monumental challenge of breathing likability into a passive-aggressive, guilt-ridden, suicidal Good Samaritan.
A minefield of potential spoilers awaits any conscientious reviewer who attempts to untangle the dubious plot of “Seven Pounds,” especially since the film’s climax depends on one’s lack of knowledge of key details. From a screenwriting standpoint, the movie’s fractured narrative is a masterstroke in protection against criticism, covering up holes in logic too massive to be addressed in any other fashion. The film opens with the 911 call in which Smith’s Ben Thomas reports his suicide. Audience members are then left with the unsettling task of spending the remainder of the running time building up to the melodramatic moment.
Ben’s distress call merely signals the beginning of a herky-jerky parade of disjointed scenes that make little sense even when the movie’s devastating dark secret is revealed. A weird prelude of seemingly unconnected incidents suggests that Ben has decided to change the lives of several strangers, some of whom he has culled from the delinquency column of the IRS database. Among the group are Woody Harrelson as a blind call-center operator and Rosario Dawson as a printmaker with an enlarged heart. Like a bizarre stalker, Ben insinuates himself into their lives in a creepy way, determining whether they might be worthy of something he can give. In addition to Harrelson and Dawson, he also harasses a negligent nursing home director and signs over his oceanfront vacation home to a battered mother.
Through all of this nonsense, the script withholds too much vital information, which has the deleterious effect of making the whole journey completely frustrating. Clever and impatient viewers will be able to discern the meaning of the movie’s enigmatic title long before a revelatory shot in the final reel explains it. A similar title and storytelling strategy was used in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s superior if no less far-fetched “21 Grams,” but the poorly paced “Seven Pounds” lacks the directorial sophistication and thoughtfulness of the 2003 film.
Once Ben’s intentions are made known, “Seven Pounds” collapses like a beachcomber stung by a poisonous jellyfish. Simultaneously preposterous and grotesque, the entire enterprise feels something like a tasteless joke played on a naïve and trusting acquaintance. Perhaps not all of the blame rests with Smith, but Ben Thomas is a horrendous person, switching from self-effacement to vindictiveness as he passes judgment on others. In so doing, Thomas cultivates a smug, godlike status without addressing the possibility that he might be able to forgive himself. In the end, the real mystery of “Seven Pounds” is how it seemed like a good idea in the first place.
This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 12/22/08.