Saturday, 17 January 2009
There's something not quite right about Ben Thomas (Will Smith). And not just because this film opens with him calling 911 to report his own suicide. He's using his power as a tax inspector to check up on the personal lives of a bunch of people, all of whom seem to be suffering from one kind of serious illness or another. Then there are the flashbacks of happier times with a wife who doesn't seem to be on the scene any more, and memories of a job that seemed to have something to do with building spacecraft don't quite fit in with his current work with the IRS. On the one hand he's helping old ladies in a nursing home, on the other he's abusing a blind meat salesman (Woody Harrelson) over the phone, and when he starts to develop a relationship with a woman with a heart condition (Eva Mendes) who he's supposedly auditing it's kind of difficult to work out where things are going to go. Well, it is unless you figure out the mystery at the heart of this film, which is pretty easy to work out despite the story constantly jumping backwards and forwards in time for no real other than to obscure events. There's enough going on in this film to keep things reasonably watchable even if you do work the mystery out early, but like a lot of Hollywood films of late this takes a fairly interesting central idea and - rather than actually explore the ramifications of that actually pretty creepy idea - turns it into a fairly stock-standard love story (this time of the doomed variety). Thankfully, good performances from Mendes and (especially) Smith make the love story engaging enough right up until a overblown, sappy finale that fails to hit any of the emotional highs it's so desperately straining towards. This is one of those worthy films that does a really good job of being just bland enough to offend no-one while looking classy enough to make you feel better for having sat through it, and those who liked Smith better when he was funny might as well keep on walking.
Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #444)