Will Smith and director M. Night Shyamalan playing together. If it were the early 2000s one may be excited, and therefore, “After Earth” might have resonated more than just a 97 minute empty lullaby.
Set 1,000 years in the future, humans were forced to evacuate Earth after a combination of pollution and climate change left the place uninhabitable. They now reside on a planet and have built up a flourishing society. The only thing that’s a constant thorn in the side for the mass relocation is this unknown monstrous alien presence that decided to massacre their new neighbors.
These arachnid-like creatures, that can only detect (see) people who fear them, still pose a threat, yet Smith and his no-nonsense battle plans have turned the tide and has repressed the attacks so the human contingent can function.
By the way, most of that synopsis is derived from the opening montage and narrative. So yeah, don’t expect to see any epic sci-fi battling.
Most of the story revolves around Smith’s 13 year-old wannabe cadet son (played by his real-life son, Jaden Smith). He’s young, but shows a ton of promise (allegedly). Problem is he’s haunted by an incident from his past (which you sporadically see via flashbacks) that tarnishes the relationship between him and his strict emotionless father. Aware of this, Smith elects to bring the kid along on a relatively routine mission, whose cargo just happens to be one of the “Starship Troopers” alien rip-offs. But when the ship encounters an asteroid field and is severely damaged, it is forced to land on…wait for it…Earth.
With the ship ravaged, the alien on the loose, and elder Smith saddled with two broken legs, the young one must venture out into the wild to locate a beacon that can signal light years across space for assistance. And the rest of the story goes exactly how you’d expect (even if you haven’t seen many of these suckers).
Before yours truly tears this apart, there are three moments that can stimulate/capture your attentive function. Two of these sequences come via the dialogue as Smith, who always has an onscreen visual of what his son is doing while roaming the dense wilderness, preaches with motivating words of wisdom to his frantic offspring. The other involves a giant bird. Yeah, the animals have slightly evolved on the planet, yet not to the extreme they could have for our entertainment value. Oh, and the CGI futuristic gadgets are quasi-cool to check out (how’s that for in-depth analysis).
It what could/should have been a dramatic sci-fi version of Jurassic Park, or anything genre related – since it steals ideas from a plethora of like-minded products, this ends up being eventful as a retirement home ice cream social emceed by Ryan Seacrest. And therein lies the problem: There is nothing fresh, provocative, or engaging at all in this journeyman piece. Plus, the only charismatic actor in the whole damn thing is forced to sit in a chair!
Remember the days when M. Night Shyamalan could effectively work the brain muscle of a viewer? After seeing this (along with all his other crap, save for “Devil,” the last ten years, I’m beginning to think that was just a myth. But if the goal was just to create a vanilla movie based on ideas already explored to death in cinema’s past, congrats dude, you succeed…at our expense (and I don’t pay for movies these days yet still feel the loss).
As for Will Smith, his performance, though exactly what it should be in accordance with the lame script, represents the arc of what the audience will go through (i.e. constantly losing blood and dosing off). His son, who showed promise in the “Karate Kid” remake a couple years ago, was given way too much to handle in carrying the entire flick. Much like the plot suggests early and often, he required more training.
Bottom line, if all the cache associated with this flick still lures you in, may I humbly suggest injecting Red Bull directly into your heart.
After Earth is rated PG-13 and opens in the Tampa Bay market on May 31st.