Will Smith's uncanny knack for choosing good material eludes him with "Seven Pounds," a self-styled romantic tragedy that doesn't know it's a horror movie.
Smith plays Ben Thomas, an IRS agent with an interest in the lives of private citizens that goes disturbingly beyond the 1040 form. In the course of an audit, Ben often blurts out that he needs to know if the subject is a good person.
Most of those we meet are good, and all of them are in need of human body parts. There is a beautiful artist (Rosario Dawson) whose heart is failing, a lonelyhearts piano player (Woody Harrelson) who's lost his sight, a do-gooder hockey coach (Bill Smitrovich) who needs bone marrow.
"Seven Pounds" is irritatingly coy about Ben's real motive in questioning these people, but it's not hard to guess what he's up to.
Even some of his "clients" have an intuition:
"Why do I have the feeling you're doing something really nice for me?" Dawson's character says of the mysterious Ben.
I don't know, because "nice" isn't the word for it. He's insinuating himself into the lives of desperate, vulnerable people, and his only justification for this stalkerlike invasion is that he feels sorry for himself.
"Seven Pounds" seems to believe that once Ben's secrets have been revealed, all of the sick and dying people we meet will be awed and grateful. I suppose that's possible, but a movie with one foot in reality would have them also feeling shocked, betrayed, angry and burdened with unnecessary guilt bequeathed them by a man who has deviously usurped their role in making crucial moral decisions.
The movie re-teams Smith with Gabriele Muccino, the director who helped make "The Pursuit of Happyness" such a wonderful surprise via Smith's portrait of a single father who'll do anything for his son.
Smith no doubt thinks that "Seven Pounds" is another parable of self-sacrifice, but his character registers opposite attributes - self-interest and self-pity - to monstrous degrees.
It leads to a finale that's meant to be moving, but is instead almost unbelievably ghoulish, like something out of an inverted Frankenstein. *