You are not alone.

I Am Legend debuted last weekend with a monstrous $77 million weekend, but is an atypical Will Smith blockbuster, largely bereft of the slam-bang action and/or comedy common to his big movies like Men in Black or Enemy of the State. (Audio review here.)

As learned from the tagline and excellent first trailer, the premise is simple: Smith is Dr. Robert Neville, the last man left in a desolate New York City, but he is not alone. Someone or something lingers, a mystery that drives the first hour, which is absolutely fantastic. With the exception of a few flashbacks that gradually answer the hows and whys generated by the plot progression, Smith interacts with no one except Sam, his loyal German Shepherd.

In this regard, I Am Legend is a cousin to the amazing Cast Away. While their respective tones are drastically different, both are set on islands void of humanity. Instead of a volleyball, Smith anthropormorphizes a dog. Hanks wrestled with inner demons on his deserted island, Smith confronts outer demons of some sort. The difference in supplies is noteworthy, and the two main characters are driven by widely disparate motivations, but the isolated survival instinct is similar, and watching Smith stretch himself as an actor is extremely enjoyable. Smith's character still possesses elements of the cocky, wise-cracking nature that moviegoers know well, but with merely a glance or a twitch, his confident veneer often cracks to reveal the effects of his time spent alone. Seeing that uncharacteristic vulnerability is initially disorienting, because we're not used to seeing a hero crack like this, but the awkwardness soon yields to awe at the powerhouse solo performance.

Aside from Smith's turn, the highlights of the movie are the breathtaking shots of a desolate New York City. We've seen the empty streets of a booming metropolis before, in movies like Vanilla Sky and 28 Days Later, but this is different. Not only is everything deserted, but also overgrown and eroded by nature and time. The minimal music and slow-moving cameras allow for an eerie and appropriate quiet within the movie, creating a game of I Spy in which one's eyes dart about, searching for familiar landmarks like Jumbotrons or Broadway signs.

The only downside to all this quality is that it doesn't last throughout the entire movie. Without giving too much away, I can say that following a key plot development, the third and final act transforms into a more familiar, action-type of movie, leading to a finale that satisfies, but doesn't quite match the preceding hour-plus. This dissonance is very reminiscent of 2004's Collateral, which similarly enthralled throughout before wimping out at the end, like a color scheme that matches at first glance but clashes upon closer inspection.

If you know what you are in for, you will enjoy the movie more thoroughly. I Am Legend is much more Cast Away than Independence Day, more Signs than Bad Boys. In his best performance yet, Will Smith proves that he has the acting chops to match his pretty face and ripped physique, deepening his own cinematic legend as he frequently carries this movie to great heights.

Bottom Line: Two-thirds of a great movie plus one-third of an average movie equals a good movie. 7 of 10.

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