If you were like me, you MARVELED at the effectiveness of Will Smith and director Gabriele Muccino's "The Pursuit of Happyness," wondering HOW they managed to remove every shred of false emotionality, cheese, heavy-handed symbolism and sappy sentimentality from a project that was PRIMED for them. Now, we have our answer: They saved it all up and used it to make THIS stumbling mess of Oscar bait.
Here's a movie that almost plays out like it was made on a dare: "Bet you can't make a maudlin tearjerker about a messianic IRS agent; bonus points if you can make a jellyfish a pivotal element." As it turns out, you CAN do this... you just shouldn't.
The hook here is supposed to be that the trailers have you wondering what the hell the film is actually about, and that it doesn't all "come together" until the final "shocking" ten minutes or so. Maybe that part will work for you. Honestly? I was pretty sure I'd figured out the story from the first trailers, and was surprised to later find out it was supposed to be vauge. Oh, well.
To be sporting, I won't tell you anything about the main plot other than what WAS shown plainly in the trailer: Will Smith is a mysterious, soft-spoken man with IRS credentials and apparently great wealth who's smarting emotionally over some yet-unrevealed personal moral failing in his recent past. He spends the film investigating and meeting various sick people in need of organ transplants, 'testing' their worth and situations for a yet-unrevealed reason. Whatever it is, it involves a rather unorthodox promise to help made by his friend (Barry Pepper) and seems to be complicated by his development of a romantic interest in one of his subjects: Rosario Dawson as a young woman in need of a new heart. Okay. That was the trailer. Do YOU have some inkling as to what the "big idea" might be? Ah, good. So it's not just me.
Anyway... I don't think it's a bad idea for a movie, myself, but the end result is torpedoed by a treacly, predictable series of scenarios and disasterously heavy-handed symbology. The story views Smith's character a martyr figure, fine - but does he REALLY need, in addition to all his other skills (he can, for example, repair a century-old machine he's never heard of just by studying it VERY intently and stopping off at the Home Depot) the seemingly supernatural ability to tame misbehaving dogs, understand the unspoken thoughts of an invalid old woman and even pull miraculous gardening solutions out of thin air? Memo to Mr. Smith: Messiah complexes tend to get movie stars into trouble. See Cruise comma Tom, Gibson comma Mel.