Star power: Will Smith, left, and Rosario Dawson pose together at the premiere of "Seven Pounds" in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

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Consider this a warning. If you like Smith for his levity and charm, skip this movie. The title "Seven Pounds" refers to the Shakespearean pound-of-flesh metaphor, meaning a figurative debt that needs to be paid back. Smith plays Ben Thomas, a man who feels the need to do good things in order to compensate for a tragic past event.If you're frustrated by my vagueness, keep in mind this film plays its cards close to the vest, lest the gimmick behind Ben's pseudo-karmic journey be too soon revealed. We can only watch as he engages in non-specific dialogue with close friend Dan (Barry Pepper) about a plan being implemented and wonder why Ben works so hard to avoid his brother (Michael Ealy).


It's obvious this is a man with a lot of baggage, and we get the sense he's attempting to be an earthly angel -- or, as the opening lines suggest, a sacrificial lamb. Odds are, he's not a creepy stalker with dastardly intentions, otherwise he wouldn't be played by Will Smith, America's movie-star sweetheart, or the subject of a mainstream film released during the holiday season.


We see Ben flashing a big smile and an IRS badge so he can get into strangers' houses, and then proceeds to channel Mary Worth, asking them intensely personal questions and meddling with their lives. He's looking for good people with, we assume, serious medical conditions, because he hangs around hospitals and retirement homes. Most notably, there's a blind pianist/telephone customer-service rep Ezra (Woody Harrelson), and a beautiful graphic designer with a debilitating cardiac condition, Emily (Rosario Dawson).


It's within the heavy-handed nature of this film that the woman with the literally broken heart will be the subject of Ben's romantic interest -- and follows Hollywood protocol that the two most attractive people in the movie must fall in love. Emily is on the transplant list and can barely walk her monster of a Great Dane without collapsing. You'd think sex would be verboten, but we're not supposed to ask that question.


The problem isn't Smith or Dawson, who exhibit some palpable chemistry, and give performances sincere enough to stave off our alienation. But they're forced to slog through a relentlessly maudlin mud bog of a screenplay that forces "Seven Pounds" to a crawl. Ben's life as we experience it is utterly devoid of humor or even feel-good sentiment. Rather, his story grabs your heartstrings, then proceeds to extract the entire organ with a hearty yank. Maybe this drag of a bummer of a downer of a movie should have been called "Seven Tons," because it sure feels like it.


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