Seven Pounds

7 pounds 7 pounds 7 pounds 7 pounds

What has happened to Will Smith, the world's most popular and bankable star  Has he lost his sense of judgment, or just begun taking for granted that his huge fan base would embrace his pictures, no matter how bad they are.

Pretentious, manipulative, sentimental, and confusing (not a very good combination for one film), “Seven Pounds” (a la “21 Grams”) is directed by Italian Gabriele Muccino, who helmed two Christmases ago another Smith's vehicle, the inspirational “Pursuit of Happyness.”  I liked Smith's turn as a devoted father, but was not a big champion of that picture because I found it too sentimental.  However, by comparison, the 2006 movie is much better thematically and artistically, and at least it addressed real socio-economic problems of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness.

And what does “Seven Pounds” address  It's hard to tell, because the diffuse scenario is all over the map, sending signals in various directions.  Basically a one-act in terms of “worthy” material, the story is not just slender but downright schmaltzy, and that it takes full two hours to present it makes things much worse.  The new film may be one of the few Smith features, during which I was downright bored by the otherwise reliably charming and engaging thespian.  In the past, Smith had penchant to rise above the level of his texts, but I doubt whether this is the case here.

In “Yes Men,” Jim Carrey plays a depressed divorced bank lawn officer, who has given up on life.  In “Seven Pounds,” Will Smith plays Ben Thomas, a depressed and troubled IRS agent, who is a widower, tormented by bad decisions and mistakes he has made in the past.

To emerge out of his suffocating shell and fatally melancholy state of mind, he decided to provide life-changing experiences to no less than seven different people, all strangers.  Among those that he rescues are a Latina heart patient in a hospital (Rosario Dawson), a blind pianist (Woody Harrelson), and an abused housewife (Elpidia Carillo), all miserably suffering “ordinary” people, who wonder why they were chosen.

In fairness to the filmmakers, let me be more specific. The number 7 works miracles in this picture.  Early on, Ben Thomas observes, “In 7 days, God created the world.  In 7 seconds, I shattered mine.”  The saga begins with a list of 7 names: Ben Thomas, Holly Apelgren, Connie Tepos, George Ristuccia, Nicholas Adams, Ezra Turner and Emily Posa. The only thing they share in common are that each has reached a turning point and is in dire need of help, from financial to spiritual to medical.  Unbeknownst to them, Ben has carefully chosen each to be part of his plan of redemption.     

There's a catch, however.  The select ones need to go through some tests or rites of passage.  They each have to demonstrate their basic decency, human kindness and generosity of spirit.

In the end, it's Emily Posa, the lively cardiac patient, who surprises Ben by doing the one thing he thought impossible, namely, develops intimacy with him.  By growing closer to him than any human has in years, Emily succeeds in turning his view of the world and what is possible inside out.

Except for the gifted Dawson and Harrelson, other talented actors are wasted in this futile experiment.  Michael Early plays Smith's brother, and Barry Pepper his old boyhood chum.

Among other things, “Seven Pounds” is so calculated that it gives a bad name to elliptical editing.  Nominally, it aims to keep the viewers in a state of suspense by concealing seemingly crucial information.  But when the pieces of the puzzle are finally revealed (regards from “Sixth Sense”), you don't care and feel cheated and offended by the fraudulent nature of the whole film.

As directed, scripted, and acted, the film fails as a suspenseful tale of a man haunted by a secret who sets out to redeem himself by drastically changing the lives of seven total strangers, or as an inspirational moralistic saga, or as a romantic drama. 

Meant to be a feel-good and life-affirming movie, “Seven Pounds” is morbid and depressing, both for what's presented on screen and also the knowledge that so many talented execs and craftsmen have worked on this big-budget studio (Columbia) picture.

I mentioned pretentious early on deliberately, for there is not escaping the allegorical nature of this saga, which is about an extreme act of self-sacrifice, positing Will Smith as a modern-day Christ figure.