“Seven Pounds” slogs about, impressed with its own supposed depth, as we watch Will Smith play a man attempting to pay for his past sins. Director Gabriele Muccino (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) seems to think he’s in Ingmar Bergman territory, but he’s actually made the longest, most dour episode of “My Name is Earl” imaginable.
The film begins with Ben Thomas (Smith) calling 911 to report his own suicide — this literally happens in the first five seconds, so it’s not a spoiler — and then, rather than putting all of us out of our misery at the same time, “Seven Pounds” spends the next two hours telling us how he got there.
Probably because there’s almost no other way to sell this movie, the marketing campaign for “Seven Pounds” has been aggressively vague about what actually happens and even what the title means. All that mystery is pretty much for naught, since any attentive viewer will figure out the ending (and also what, exactly, those 112 ounces represent) about half an hour in.
Suffice it to say that Ben feels wracked with guilt and loss, and his coping mechanism brings him into the lives of various people, including a print artist (Rosario Dawson) and a blind, piano-playing telemarketer (Woody Harrelson).
One thing I can give away, since it’s in the trailer, is that Ben gives his house to an impoverished Latina mother (played by Elpidia Carrillo) looking to get out of an abusive relationship. “Seven Pounds” never addresses what’s going to happen when her property tax bill comes due; did we learn nothing from Oprah’s “Everybody gets a car” fiasco, when her needy donors had to report their automotive gift to the IRS?
Coming off his extraordinary work in “I Am Legend,” here Smith gives a horrendously disappointing performance. All of Ben’s grief is presented in the most externalized, indicating manner possible as Smith jumps back and forth between inert and manic, pausing occasionally for the shedding of one single tear, the male version of Demi Moore in her heyday.
The only saving grace of “Seven Pounds” is the luminous Rosario Dawson, who seems incapable of ever being artificial onscreen. She takes an underwritten character in an overblown movie and creates a real person, finding the grace notes and even elevating Smith out of ham-handedness in their scenes together. Dawson is one of the more underappreciated artists in contemporary American cinema, and if we have to sit through as turgid a vehicle as “Seven Pounds” to give her an opportunity to show her stuff, then so be it.
“Seven Pounds” ultimately delivers the usual phony baloney that the major studios offer up in thick slices at the end of the year. It’s the kind of tediously moralizing parable that wants audiences to leave the theater thinking about doing unto others, but its real target demographic is Oscar voters. Those Academy members may find themselves feeling less inclined towards generosity.