Throwing Will Smith’s star power and shed loads of CGI at a remake of the 1971 sci-fi movie ‘The Omega Man’ makes sound commercial sense. After all, it worked with ‘I, Robot’ and ‘Men in Black’. The first half of ‘Constantine’ director Francis Lawrence’s ‘re-imagining’ suggests that the darker themes of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel might survive. Then the redundant flashbacks kick in, the mutant albino monsters appear, and you’re left gawping at $100 million-worth of eye-popping futuristic B-movie.
Kudos to Smith for taking on the Charlton Heston role of Richard Neville, a military virologist who miraculously survives a pandemic that wiped out most of Manhattan’s citizens, and transformed the rest into flesh-craving nocturnal zombies. But he is such a likeable actor that he fails to take us with him when he changes from a kooky, Bob Marley-loving guy who talks to his dog into an embittered, faithless cynic. And God knows he has reason to doubt: his wife and daughter were killed during the evacuation, and he spends his days scavenging for supplies and searching for an antidote. His nights are spent barricaded inside a brownstone, while the creatures of the night howl for blood outside.
Despite the striking post-apocalyptic images of nature returning to the city, this is an oddly benign world. Like the herd of deer that Neville encounters, Lawrence’s vision is timid and evasive. The film falls apart when the appearance of Anna (Alice Braga) restores Neville’s faith and lays the groundwork for an absurd, religious happy ending.