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Movie Review

Heavy weight

Will Smith is a troubled IRS agent in 'Seven Pounds'

Will Smith stars with Rosario Dawson in ''Seven Pounds.'' Will Smith stars with Rosario Dawson in ''Seven Pounds.''
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / December 19, 2008
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"Seven Pounds" opens with Ben Thomas (Will Smith) making a 911 call regarding his upcoming suicide.

I'd like to make a 911 call myself: Lord, please stop this increasingly fine actor from climbing onto another cross.

Smith is a movie star, not a martyr. When he suffers here, boy, do we all. The last thing anyone wants is to dissuade an actor of Smith's magnetism from exploring the bounds of his charisma and his talent. But this vat of chicken soup for the soul does no one any favors. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of the folks lucky enough to receive what Ben is giving.

This is the sort of movie that leaves you with too many questions. What, for instance, is up with Ben having a pet jellyfish? Why is he calling a blind telephone operator (Woody Harrelson) and mocking his sightlessness? Why, when Ben hangs up, does he weep a bit then beat his coffee table with an expensive-looking chair? Why, whenever he talks to his best friend (Barry Pepper), does the best friend fall to pieces? Why does Ben sign his beach house over to a Mexican family, move into a motel, and continue to stalk sickly Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson, looking her luscious self even at death's door)? How, if Ben is so suicidally depressed, does he still get his hair to have that perfect S-Curl sheen? (That's not easy to do when you want to live.) How does any of this relate to his work as an IRS agent? And most crucially: Seven pounds of what?

Amid all this, there are flashbacks to a time when Ben knew how to smile. Apparently, those were the days. Then Something Happened. Now he acts like the illegitimate child of Jeff Bridges in "Starman" and Della Reese on "Touched by an Angel." Everything is explained, but long after we're owed clarity of some kind. Or maybe the explanation is just underwhelming.

"Seven Pounds" is exasperating because it doesn't seem to know how exasperating all its ambiguity can be. The film's chronology has been decentralized so we don't really know where in time we are, and Gabriele Muccino directs the stuffing out of everything in the name of achieving the loping artiness you maybe recall from "Babel" and "21 Grams," two movies made in collaboration between director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga.

The script for "Seven Pounds" is by Grant Nieporte, whose credits include writing for the sitcoms "8 Simple Rules . . ." and "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." Before banging out his first screenplay, he appears to have spent a weekend watching the tortured fruits of Inarritu and Arriaga's labor. "Seven Pounds" strives for similar unliftable heaviness but lacks even the grand ponderousness of an Inarritu-Arriaga production. The movie is a doorstop that thinks it's a statue.

A couple of years ago, Muccino got an astonishing piece of acting out of Smith in "The Pursuit of Happyness," in which he created one of the most realistic renderings of a parent I've ever seen in a movie. Smith is just as achy-breaky in "Seven Pounds." But the urgency of being a broke, homeless single dad gave the actor real problems to react to. This new movie keeps quiet about what's eating Ben for far too long. We don't know what he's reacting to. Smith manages to be engaging, anyway. It doesn't matter whether he's bathing with that jellyfish or trying, with Dawson, to hit the glass-breaking high notes of Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You."

But too often the movie's preposterous ideas of goodly sacrifice blur the line between altruism and self-importance. As a rapper, Smith's charm was always that he could brag without ever seeming conceited. (Remember "I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson"?) That unlikely wholesomeness is what's keeping him the world's most dependable movie star. But here there's something unseemly about Ben's virtue. His charitable give-away is really a ludicrous act of hubris.

Smith in "Seven Pounds" is looking to be more than a saint, a god, or some good Samaritan. Hilariously, the man wants the impossible: He wants to be Oprah.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/ movienation.

SEVEN POUNDS Directed by: Gabriele Muccino

Written by: Grant Nieporte

Starring: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Barry Pepper, Michael Ealy, and Woody Harrelson

At: Boston Common, Fenway, subrubs

Running time: 118 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (thematic material, some disturbing content, and a scene of sensuality)

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