Columbia Pictures has asked critics not to offer up anything in their reviews that could be construed as a spoiler. I can understand this. If I told the film’s secrets—by which I mean those not telegraphed by the trailer—and you believed me (a prospect I find unlikely), you’d probably burst out laughing. What could the studio do to me if I did spill the beans? Make me sit through the damned thing again? Well, I’m not risking that, so all I’m saying here is that Seven Pounds manages the not inconsiderable feat of being both painfully predictable and preposterous to the point of being demented. Put it this way: When you see how things have to go and you start to slip into “Oh, no, they couldn’t possibly” mode, disabuse yourself of that disbelief. They not only can, but they will.
I honestly think that those responsible for Seven Pounds believe the movie is a lot more mysterious than it is. I knew from the trailer that Will Smith was playing a tormented man who has the ability to help out other people, which he seems to be doing to expiate his guilt over something bad he did. The trailer also made it pretty clear that he’s rather choosy about whom he helps. And while he doesn’t want to become emotionally involved with them, he will do just that with at least one, and that’s all planned to be capped off by Smith shuffling off his mortal coil. If the idea was to surprise or shock via those elements, it didn’t work. OK, I knew nothing of the bad thing Smith had done, though I had it pegged by the 20-minute mark. There’s also an aspect of what he’s up to that is partly surprising, a couple of minor details that aren’t immediately obvious—and then there’s the jellyfish. Yes, I said jellyfish.
Smith plays an IRS agent named Ben Thomas. We first meet him in a sleazy motel room where he’s calling 911 to report a suicide—his own. At this point the film flashes back to the events that brought him to this moment. The film then—because this is like art, you know—jumps around in a willy-nilly fashion showing Ben engaging in various mysterious activities and behaving in what former sitcom writer Grant Nieporte thinks is irrational behavior, which it might be if we couldn’t clearly see where this is going. Why does he abuse blind, vegan meat telemarketer Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson) over the phone? Why does he hang around a hospital scoping out (it’d be called stalking if he weren’t Will Smith) Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), the hapless girl with the rare blood type who owes $56,000 in back taxes and needs a heart transplant? Is this standard IRS agent protocol? If you can’t figure this out, you need to see more contrived movies.
When Ben isn’t involved in odd activities, he spends a lot of time sulking in his palatial beach house with his pet CGI box jellyfish (“the deadliest creature in the world,” Ben tells us in a childhood-memory flashback). At least that’s what he does until he starts putting his plan into action, whereupon he packs up his jellyfish and moves to the sleazy motel. The jellyfish, by the way, has no name, but then neither does fourth-billed Michael Ealy as “Ben’s Brother,” so I guess that’s fair. In any case, rampant melodrama of the most manipulative kind finally leads us back to that 911 call.
The aim is multiple-handkerchief weeping. The hope is that viewers won’t examine the amassed illogical plot points too closely. Those who shed copious tears will accuse those of us who find it all tedious and phony of “thinking too much.” It will be last year’s The Bucket List all over again. The public’s love affair with Will Smith will probably carry the day at the box office, even if this isn’t one of his better performances (looking like you’re suffering from intestinal cramping isn’t a good substitute for angst). Some of us will spend years trying to get the sound of an elementary-school chorus singing Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Into Something Good” out of our heads, while wondering if we can ever look a jellyfish in the tentacle again. The world will go on. Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some disturbing content and a scene of sensuality.