<em>I Am Legend</em> reminds us why we fear New York City, terrorists, and monsters and why we love Will Smith.

Not to put too flippant a spin on it, but beneath its hyperbolic, apocalyptic, kitschy sci-fi dread, I Am Legend taps into some basic fears we have as Americans and earthlings. First of all, we suspect that New York City may harbor rabid zombies in its darkest recesses, and-more globally-that if the terrorists don’t get us, then the environmental/bio-mishaps will. But mostly, the dog lovers among us-those who half empathize with the adage “the more I learn about humanity, the more I like my dog”-fear that our faithful pooches will meet with untimely ends. Never mind the billions who may succumb to a virulent pandemic, leaving only Will Smith-plus Sam, his trusty German shepherd-to fend for himself in a desolate N.Y.C.

All kidding aside-as it mostly is during this glum, grand monster movie-I Am Legend manages to inject creepy claustrophobia into the blockbuster contemporary disaster-flick genre. This is the third screen adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, adapted in 1964’s The Last Man on Earth (with Vincent Price) and 1971’s Omega Man (with Charlton Heston).

Of course, we’ve also been to the harrowing no-man’s-landscape in theaters more recently, with quite fine disease-oriented disaster films like 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, and last year’s Children of Men. But this one is less grim and harrowing than those predecessors. Plus, of course, it has a dog and Will Smith, who-even when he tries his mightiest to be tough-has a friendly presence onscreen. When he tells his daughter “Daddy’s going to make the monsters go away,” we believe him.

What former music video director Francis Lawrence’s spin on the story has going for it is a solid sense of pacing and the kind of post-blighted urban realism that a big budget and CGI can buy. But leavening doses of Hollywood feel-good sauce are present here, too. While we’re effectively sucked into a world of ¼ber-hurt, we’re also detached enough to have distracting thoughts like “Hey, there’s Times Square. Sure would be fun to go there for Christmas.” Or “It’d be nice to have a German shepherd like that one.”

For showtimes, check the Independent‘s movie listings, here.


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