Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: PG-13 for language and adult content
Run Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
The concept of sacrificial lamb takes on fresh meaning in this slick but sappy weeper.
Will Smith continues to rule the holidays as Treasury Agent Ben Thomas, a genial do-gooder quite unlike your average IRS slouch. “Seven Pounds” keeps its secrets so close to the vest it’s tough to know what to make of a man who wants to forgive a number of his taxpaying clients their financial sins.
But forgive he does: a congenital heart patient who owes tens of thousands in backlogged medical bills (Rosario Dawson as Emily Posa), a sweet blind meat salesman (Woody Harrelson) and an abused mother of two (Elpidia Carrillo) are all spared economic hardship with one simple caveat; that they live life abundantly and demonstrate they are decent human beings.
The narrative gets muddled as the mystery deepens thanks to a series of intense flashbacks involving a fiery car crash that killed seven, Ben’s fiancé among them. In a former life it appears Ben was an engineering genius with a high-stress job and a temper to match.
A concerned brother (Michael Ely) intermittently yet desperately attempts contact with Ben, but why? Ben rents a hotel room with an open- ended departure date, another puzzler. A languid love story develops between transplant candidate Emily and our enigmatic hero, natch. Ben seems consumed by his quest as a soul healer, guilt shedder or earthbound guardian angel.
Smith pulls off the ruse – or is it? – with a sweet lack of guile and an earnest faith in a higher power. Whatever he does he does well and his Ben Thomas is no exception.
I have mixed feelings about films that pull their ultimate punch in the final frames. It’s risky business asking the viewer to forgive the transgressions of a fragile storyline by tugging too hard on the emotional heartstrings. Those strings tie up a number of loose ends but the final act of “Seven Pounds” leaves a melodramatic and manipulative residue that no amount of tears can wash away.