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'Seven Pounds'

In "Seven Pounds," a somber tale of martyrdom and atonement, a mysterious man in a dark suit hovers around hospitals, looking for fallen sparrows who may need saving. His name is Ben Thomas ( Will Smith), but we might as well call him Jesus Christ. He suffers, he sacrifices, he even experiences a kind of transubstantiation.

- Click to see photos from 'Seven Pounds'

Hammering a religious gong from the get-go, "Seven Pounds" opens with Ben dialing 911 to report his own suicide. A brief voice-over follows: "In seven days, God created the world," he says. "And in seven seconds, I shattered mine."

Ben, who survived a car crash that killed seven people, is on a mission to improve the lives of seven others. His list includes a blind pianist ( Woody Harrelson), a battered mother (Elpidia Carrillo) and the beautiful Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson, appealingly vulnerable), who suffers from a heart condition. They're a seemingly random group, but with one thing in common: maximum pity potential.

Smith and director Gabriele Muccino showed some restraint in "The Pursuit of Happyness," which was based on a true story, but little rings true in "Seven Pounds." The tender romance between Ben and Emily suffocates under mawkish imagery (falling rain, snuffed candles) while the other storylines offer naive solutions to complex problems. Can you really "save" a battered woman with one magnanimous gesture? Who will her next boyfriend be?

The script, by Grant Nieporte, seems to fundamentally misunderstand its moral themes. As Ben doles out salvation, choosing the righteous from the undeserving, he presumptuously plays God. He sees bravery in suicide, rather than in sticking around to do the hard work of living. And his seven victims are never humanized; they're mere abstractions, seven pounds of flesh that allow Ben to play the martyr and jerk our tears.

The film's most important lesson, revealed near the end, is almost comical. Here it is: Thou shalt not text-message whilst driving.

- Click to see photos from 'Seven Pounds'

(PG-13)

PLOT A guilt-ridden car-crash survivor goes on a mission to help others.

CAST Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson

LENGTH 2:02

PLAYING AT Area theaters.

BOTTOM LINE Manipulative, overwrought and morally confused.

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