There are plenty of movie stars (including one currently headed to theaters donning an eye-patch) whose acting skills amount to riffing on a one-dimensional celebrity persona. And then there are those valuable few like Will Smith, who actively seek out roles -- often in so-so mega-blockbusters -- that challenge their range and demand more than simply endearing smirks and cutesy quips. For Smith, this has resulted in a career at once box-office lucrative and critically respected, with his performances in work as varied as 2007's post-apocalyptic sci-fi actioner I Am Legend and 2006's true-life melodrama The Pursuit of Happyness exhibiting equal amounts of intensity and nuance. Smith can do macho bluster and ladies' man charm in his sleep, yet what elevates him above most of his marquee brethren has always been an ability to lace such outsized qualities with a strain of vulnerable fallibility. He's a figure at once larger-than-life and still relatable, a hero capable of revealing, in ways more subtle than the chaos that frequently surrounds him, mortal tenderness and uncertainty.
Having, with The Pursuit of Happyness, already proven himself capable of bringing raw sensitivity to mawkish material, there was modest reason to hope that Smith might again pull off the same feat in his second collaboration with that film's director, Gabriele Muccino. No such luck. Seven Pounds is misguided mush from the moment go, a deliberately muddled bit of inspirational pap that masks its inherent silliness with structural obliqueness and, worse still, affords Smith scant opportunities to infuse his character with authentic humanity.