REVIEW: "SEVEN POUNDS" (2008)
By Steven Barnes
New Year's Eve, 2008.
I have to review this movie twice - "straight", and then with serious spoilers and a "Sambo" alert. Here comes the first, written as if ethnicity and race are not in any way an issue...
"Seven Pounds" is Will Smith's latest "serious" Christmas offering, and I, for one, liked it a lot. There are secrets that the filmmakers have worked hard to conceal, and I won't go there. Yet. However, I knew what was going on from pretty much the beginning of the movie, and was mildly surprised that people were all that shocked. Unlike Bruce Willis in "Sixth Sense" where the revelation at the end absolutely makes the film, Will Smith's "Seven Pounds" was perfectly enjoyable even if your head gets ahead of the plot.
Basically, you have an IRS agent (Smith) with a somewhat mysterious past and intent, becoming involved in the lives of several apparently unconnected people. These people are all troubled in one way or another but he seems committed to sussing out their true natures, with largess in mind. There are fractured memories, a strange aquatic pet, odd skill sets and people loaded with what seems unearned emotion. Don't worry: it's all explained. Along the way, Smith displays his constantly evolving acting skills (he has become genuinely impressive) and has a delicately unfolded romance with the astonishingly sexy Rosario Dawson.
As some have intimated, Smith and Dawson have a very nice PG-13 love scene. Naturalistic, and I caught very little evidence of the usual backing-off I see when black men are juxtaposed with prospective nookie in movies. Considering Smith's gigantic box-office appeal, even considering the odd nature of this movie (it is not an alien invasion), there is a real chance it will cross that 100-million domestic Barack Obama level that I've drawn in the sand. If it does, it's making history.
And not only that, but the naked manipulation, and extraordinarily canny gamesmanship Smith is indulging in, is finally clear to me. In "Hitch" he got to have a chaste romance with Eva Mendez by simultaneously helping a geeky white guy get laid. The subconscious message: Smith is sexy, but not a cock-blocker. If you support him, you'll get lucky! The part of the human male mind obsessed with genetic victory was confused enough to kinda say: "aw, fuck it. Let him get a girl."
By "The Pursuit of Happyness" you had Smith accepted in a straight-forward dramatic role (with people commenting about his apparent brilliance. You probably wouldn't be surprised how often I saw people commenting about how he might really be smart enough to work that Rubic's cube. After all, Smith was accepted at MIT...get it? You don't see people asking if Brent Spiner is actually smart enough to be Data. But since Smith actually IS brilliant, maybe it's...sort of believable...need you read between the lines?) But notice that he barely even touched Thandie Newton. The movie makes me sick.
By "I Am Legend" I think it was obvious to most that Smith could cross that line. Hell! He's arguably the biggest movie star in the world. But he didn't get there by being sloppy. He knows the game he's playing. So you have the last man on the world, who is not gay and he encounters the last woman but unlike any of the other three versions of the film, he has no sexual interest in her at all. Wow. I would have sworn that our genetic programming would make that unlikely as hell. It was as if as soon as a woman appears, he killed himself as quickly as possible. Can't have the audience feeling uncomfortable that he might be about to have sex with a White woman!
Then of course "Hancock." Wow. If, like me, you've been watching this shit for 30 years and more, you knew that he wasn't going to get any action. Especially when they chose a blonde South African actress to play opposite him. The only question was: how painful was this going to be? And the answer? Plenty. Destroyed the movie for me, it was so glaringly obvious that the writers had jiggered the story - as they have since the original "Bad Boys" - to keep Smith from turning off white guys in the audience.
There's an old Cheech and Chong routine. In it, a man takes his wife to a porn film. The woman on the screen is screwed in demeaning ways ("oh, look, Marge! She's gonna do it with the dog!") and the wife wants to leave. Then...a black man shows up on screen. "Oh no!" the (presumably white) guy says. "He's not gonna kiss her with those Mambo lips, is he?" in disgust, he wants to leave...but his wife, turned on, wants to stay and watch.
Just a comedy routine, of course!
Am I being too harsh? I don't think so.
I have listened to white males groan in disgust when a black man kisses a woman as in "Flight of the Osiris", the Animatrix cartoon; watched them walk out of the theater during love scenes; lean away from the screen when Denzel kisses a woman in the coming attractions for "Mo Better Blues." And I've heard them complain "I don't know why they make crap like that" after "Save the Last Dance" – a mild, PG-13 interracial romance - and other things, all around black men getting laid on screen. After all these years, it's rarely that bad any more, but I can still feel the ripple of unrest in the theater, a completely different reaction than the one you get if the male is white.
And in "Seven Pounds" three people left the audience during the love scenes, and this was at a Martinee! That was a reasonable percentage of the total audience.
The secret of the film is that Smith, overwhelmed with guilt for the vehicular death of seven people, is planning to commit suicide, and give organs (and possessions) away to seven deserving people. And at the end, he goes through with it. Now, given this premise, and Smith's past chess-moves, this is how they figured they could get away with him getting laid.
One, he dies. Therefore, although he has sex, he is not a future genetic competitor. Two, he leaves no children behind. Again, no genetic competition. Compare, for instance, with "Benjamin Button" which ends with Pitt's death, but he leaves a daughter behind. No tragedy, right? Just live rolling on, even if backwards. Smith's genetic line ends. Lastly, two white men get brown women. His doctor friend is married to a gorgeous black woman. And Rosario Dawson ends up in an embrace with Woody Harrelson, a former blind man who got Smith's eyes.
And there you have it. In my opinion, Smith figured it out: by addressing the core unconscious issue (genetic competition) without ever discussing it directly, he is working to disarm that ugly little response. He's showing a pathway through the minefield. If "Seven Pounds" succeeds, the next step is a black man gets laid and survives.
And after that?
Well, it will be considerably "normed." People will wonder what all the fuss was about, cluck their tongues and blame "Hollywood" for taking so long to "catch up with the rest of the world.
Oh...and I'll stop flinching so hard when the only black man in the movie or television show is gay. And my son Jason gets to grow up in a better world than the one I inherited. And by God, I did my part.
A movie with quite a bit on its mind and heart. I give it a "B+".
Steven Barnes is a best-selling novelist, television writer and art critic. His latest book, Great Sky Woman, is now on sale at Amazon. He blogs as Darkush.
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