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Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008

The Taxman’s Quest?

Will Smith’s disappointment

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Will Smith is one of contemporary Hollywood's most likable stars; alas, Seven Pounds is perhaps his least likable movie. He plays Ben Thomas, a morose and suicidal IRS agent-or at least he might be a taxman, a confusing early scene at a corporate seminar notwithstanding-afflicted with memories of a beautiful wife lost to him forever. The flashbacks eventually reveal a car accident with seven fatalities all told. It transpires that Ben was to blame. That he was texting while driving serves as the story's most apposite moral.

Agent Thomas appears to be on an odd quest of some kind, auditing or pretending to audit people owing back taxes, forgiving them or not depending on whether he finds them to be good people. He's brutally cruel to a blind telephone customer service rep and later follows the poor man around, learning of his life and bestowing advice and gifts upon him. His relationship with Emily (fetchingly played by Rosario Dawson), dying from an enlarged heart and owing Uncle Sam thousands in taxes, crosses the line into stalking. Except after she finally falls in love with him for being her tireless benefactor.

There are other plot entanglements with other people who have caught Ben's eye, some of them faithful taxpayers with other problems in their lives. And then there is that deadly jelly fish he keeps as a pet in the motel room where he moves, despite owning that beautiful seaside house with flowers lining the path to the beach.

The through line for all of this becomes apparent by the conclusion of Seven Pounds, but the journey is frustratingly dull and meandering. One suspects a coherent plan for a movie once existed, but perhaps each of the five credited producers crowded into the kitchen while the film was cooking on the stove. The result is the proverbial bowl of spoiled broth, unpalatable despite what screenwriter Grant Nieporte must have intended as a fable of redemption. Even Will Smith isn't enough to save it.