When Will Smith and director Gabriele Muccino first teamed up for "The Pursuit of Happyness" in 2006, I was amazed by how something so earnest and treacly was winning over my film-critic pals, cynics I assumed would yawn and eye-roll the same way I did throughout the movie. (Their favorable reactions may have been brought on by white guilt, but I'll save that discussion for another time.)
When I heard Smith and Muccino would get back together for a movie called "Seven Pounds," I was certain that before I saw it, even before I found out what the movie is about, that it would be better than "Happyness." It was like I was convincing myself to like something just to spite my opinionated friends. Hey, I've done it before!
Eventually, there are some things that can't be denied when it's laid out in front of you. And you just have to face the awful truth: "Seven Pounds" is not that good. Dang it!
Even more dark and unrelenting than "Happyness," "Pounds" has Smith as Ben Thomas, a mysterious tax collector who is on some mission to come into people's lives and help them. See a mother of two who has an abusive boyfriend? Give her your beach house to escape. See a little boy dying of cancer? Give him your blood for a bone-marrow transplant. See a blind guy who's a little shy with women? Berate him on the phone and call him a cowardly virgin until he grows a pair.
His extreme good Samaritan routine hits a groove when he meets a debt-heavy woman (Rosario Dawson) who's suffering from a heart condition. As Thomas works overtime to make her life a little easier, they begin to get closer than he intended.
And that's pretty much all I can tell you about the movie. Everyone involved with the making of this thing has closely guarded the actual factuals of the movie (scripted by former sitcom writer Grant Nieporte).
Part of the supposed appeal of "Pounds" is that, as the movie unfolds, the audience finds out just what Thomas' plan is, which, of course, reveals itself in the movie's climax (I can tell you it involves sea life) and which people will find either emotionally draining or insanely absurd.
Truth be told, I like "Pounds" more than "Happyness," but not by much. Its manipulative, dang-near-sheisty intent to turn its audience into emotional wrecks is more blatant and obvious than "Happyness," which hid its sappiness behind Reagan-destroyed-America-first social commentary. I am amazed Muccino actually used the talents of Dawson, who is given many moments to act and not just be the hot, caramel-colored chick in another movie.
And call me sadistic, but I got a kick watching the Fresh Prince figuratively whip himself silly, like Paul Bettany's killer albino monk in "The Da Vinci Code." With the exception of Ben Stiller, there isn't an A-lister who, almost pathologically, downplays his movie-star appeal on film more than Smith. I can't help but think he's putting himself through all this drama to apologize for the unevenness of "Hancock."
Still, "Pounds" is a sentimental slog. Smith's inconsolable, possibly unhinged protagonist goes on such an intense, wretched journey of atonement for his past sins (as you've probably guessed, all this charity is brought on by a tragic, traumatic incident), just watching him go through it is a challenge -- and not in the ultimately rewarding way. Let's just say "Seven Pounds" is the wrong kind of movie if you're looking for heartwarming holiday cheer.
It almost makes me want to suggest renting "The Pursuit of Happyness" if you're looking for that stuff. I'm sure all my friends who liked the movie would love to see me do that!