Who's in It:
The Basics: Smith is a military scientist and the last man alive after a worldwide epidemic wipes out all humans. His daytime companion is a really loyal dog. His nighttime enemies are the undead superhuman vampire zombies left in the wake of the epidemic. He may have a cure for the disease, but it'll mean capturing one of them and using it as a guinea pig before they figure out where his locked-down lab is. And before he goes nuts himself from the isolation.
What's the Deal? You hope against hope that big movie stars will choose projects that strike the balance between polishing their heroic, crowd-pleasing image and delivering unstupid films to a mass audience. OK, actually you wish they'd all go off and make weird movies with interesting directors like Nicole Kidman does. But failing that, you hope for solid popcorn movies that you won't regret having spent money on as soon as the lights go up. So this is one of those popcorn movies. It moves fast, it's exciting, it's suspenseful, stuff blows up, and, best of all, Smith isn't smirking and showboating. It balks at the moral ambiguity of the 1954 novel it's based on (in that one, the last man on Earth unwittingly kills people who aren't part of the vampire-zombie hordes), but you can't have everything.
Cameo That Made Me Happy and Then Disappointed Within the First 60 Seconds: Emma Thompson opens the movie as a doctor who's discovered the cure for all cancers. I thought, "Oh, good, I dig Emma Thompson." After that scene, the screen goes black and reads: "Three years later." You see New York City overgrown with weeds. Wild animals roaming free. No people anywhere. And then it's pretty much a guarantee that Thompson won't be around for the rest of it, having been the unwitting angel of death for all humanity. Bummer.
The Coolest Thing About This Story: It's like a sponge that can absorb whatever social anxieties exist during the era it's set in. The '50s novel can be a metaphor for the Cold War; the Charlton Heston film version, The Omega Man, includes a Manson-like madman and his group called "The Family"; and this one's subtext is everyone's current fixation on superbugs, bird flu, apocalypse and the end of the world. A few weeks ago, I was in a multiplex near my house, and lined up on the wall were Coming Soon posters for this movie, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem and Cloverfield. If that's not a collective cultural subtext happening, then there's no such thing.
Fun Game to Play While Watching It: Wondering what, if anything, Scientology has to do with it. Probably nothing, as Smith seems to be a recent addition to the celebrity-stocked trophy case of that religion if, in fact, he is at all, his recent pro-Scientology interview notwithstanding but we'll know for sure when he starts casting Jenna Elfman and Kirstie Alley in his upcoming comedies or teams up with Cruise and Travolta for Battlefield Earth 2.