When an actor reaches a summit of unparalleled global popularity, it is probably hard to resist the temptation to play God. Will Smith, in all his humanistic narcissism, continues to erect a gallery of Olympian everymen. The soused superhero of "Hancock" and the homeless overachiever of "The Pursuit of Happyness" are canny exemplars of the divin- ity next door, with warts and all.
The most downbeat of his recent output, "Seven Pounds," rounds out with those two films a kind of trilogy of self-deification. Spurring memories of the hit '50s TV series "The Millionaire," in which a wealthy man randomly anoints benefactors of his fortune, Smith's character Ben Thomas endeavors to give of himself to complete strangers in a radically personal way. "It is within my power to drastically change his circumstances," proclaims a strung-out Ben as he sallies forth on a grotesque mission of redemption.
From the outset of this lugubrious romantic mystery, Ben has already tumbled from his own private Olympus and is bound for suicide. The stubble-chinned wastrel he has become is a very different creature from the California hipster we glimpse through flashbacks: a charismatic aeronautics executive with a beach house, a gorgeous girlfriend and one of those sporty midlife-crisis cars that transforms the Pacific Coast Highway into the Côte d'Azur.
Reinventing himself as a tax agent, a newly depressed Ben embarks on a pursuit of melancholy, seeking out ravaged souls upon whom he can impose his cryptic legacy. Ben's seeming generosity is outpaced only by his self-righteousness: The main caveat of the deal is that they be worthy of his largesse.
With a belligerence that turns ugly at times, Ben stalks a variety of candidates, including a blind, indefatigably good-natured customer service worker (Woody Harrelson, channeling Virginia Cherrill's flower girl in Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights") and a battered mother of two (Elpidia Carrillo). The apple of his eye, however, is Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), a debt-ridden cardiac patient and graphic printer who is three years behind on her taxes but still manages to keep her bathroom stocked with Kiehl's cosmetics. A gal after our hearts.
The terminally ill Emily is badly in need of any heart she can get, as it happens, a dire situation that snaps our hero out of his torpor and rekindles his romantic spirit. Ben takes time out from rescuing the needy to weed Emily's garden and recondition her antique printing press. Ben is nothing if not a sensitive man, and "Seven Pounds" exults in Iron John moments wherein heterosexual guys declaim their love for one another.
Director Gabriele Muccino and first-time screenwriter Grant Nieporte labor to cloak the film's catalyzing event in an aura of mystery, but anyone who has not already taken refuge in their text-message mailbox should have it figured out in the first 20 minutes.
The rest of "Seven Pounds" feels like a half-hour "Twilight Zone" script that has been pressed onto a gob of Silly Putty and stretched to the sinking point. Like its star's ingratiating Eddie Haskell smile, the film's title dissembles. Add a thousand and you have an idea of how much the thing weighs.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun