It’s not a matter of whether you like Will Smith, or think that it’s cute that he is starring in a new movie alongside his real-life son, Jaden Smith. This is surely how the film, After Earth (opening today), has been marketed, because if they told you who wrote and directed it, the Smiths would not nearly be enough to drag you into the theater, kicking and/or screaming.
They have smartly buried the fact that After Earth is the latest directorial effort (also co-written) of M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan, you may remember, was the hottest thing going in Hollywood when he released The Sixth Sense back in 1999. He followed it up with the lesser, but still impressive Unbreakable and Signs in the next few years. But it was his string of films after Signs – The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening and culminating with the biggest turd of all, The Last Airbender in 2010 – that branded him as a once promising story-teller who has fallen all the way from grace and into the dog houses of the movie-going public.
His “twist” endings worked during his earlier films, but quickly became too-clever-for-their-own-good gimmicks as time went on. Often, his films have been criticized for poor dialogue, numbingly dull acting performances and incomprehensible plots.
Unbelievably, Shyamalan is able to lower the bar even further with After Earth, a bland and unintelligent futuristic sci-fi film that makes The Last Airbender seem like Citizen Kane. He sucks all the life and spirit out of Will Smith, who in this future is a heroic soldier named Cypher, possessing the rare ability of never sensing fear. His son Kitai (Jaden Smith), wants to follow in his father’s footsteps, but is haunted by the guilt of his past.
When their spaceship runs into trouble, it crash lands on a “toxic” uninhabitable planet. Although the revelation of this planet seems to be a big deal, keen observers may be able to pick up on what it is…by reading the film’s title. Ahem, no spoilers here.
As always seems to happen, the ship is scattered and separated into two different sections and all of the needed equipment to get back home resides in the half where our heroes are not. With his dad gravely injured, it is up to Kitai to become a man and make it to the other half of the ship before his father dies, or before he runs out of air (you see, the air on the planet is toxic and Kitai needs to inhale these little juice boxes in order to breathe the air….oh, nevermind).
Beyond the stilted, bad acting, the over-the-top drama and the absurd flashback storyline (where Kitai re-lives a tragic event from his past…but seriously, what was this toddler supposed to do in that hopeless situation?), After Earth still had a reasonable chance at being fun. But it is totally squandered when one unintentional hilarity after another ensues.
Instead of battling aliens (although there is one), much of the movie is spent with Kitai battling a series of angry animals – from baboons to birds to snakes to coyotes – as if he had fallen off the safari ride at Disney World. All of these mammals seem to have no problem breathing the toxic air, by the way. In a touching (gag!) scene, a giant vulture thinks Kitai is one of its young and then later the bird comes to Kitai’s defense before dying slowly in Kitai’s arms (darn, spoiler!).
Will Smith is relegated to a stern father caricature, who is relegated to a gurney for the length of the movie. Much of the movie is spent with Kitai and Cypher communicating via headset or video conferencing. Many of Will’s lines are either stolen from the Proud Yet Emotionless Dad’s Handbook, or take use of nerdy techno-babble made famous in real science-fiction, like Star Trek.
Adding to the ridiculousness of the plot is how incredibly dumbed-down things are made to be. We are told that each air canister (juice box) holds 24 hours of air. Kitai is down to only two canisters. When Cypher uses his futuristic gadgets to gauge how much air Kitai will need to complete his journey, he has two different routes: One will use up four days and the other will use up two. In case we are not able to complete this complex math problem, the computer screen actually beeps in with the message that the two-day route is the “ONLY SURVIVABLE ROUTE.” Thanks, technology! Such smart gadgets must have been meant to be consumed by some real dolts for such a message to be necessary.
After Earth is less a movie than it is a live-action video game. Each scene seems like the next level of some bad side-scrolling adventure. It is a massive disappointment because this movie looked promising, features a promising up-and-coming actor in Jaden Smith and the usually reliable blockbuster sci-fi star Will Smith. But right now, everything Shyamalan gets involved in movie-wise, turns sour. He is currently King Midas, but instead of gold, everything he touches is turning to crap.
At least this one didn’t have a twist ending. The fact that it ended at all was the greatest gift the audience could have received.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo
Co-Written & Directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Last Airbender, The Sixth Sense, Signs, Unbreakable, The Village)
Opens locally on Friday, May 31, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli’s “Star Ratings:”
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time