Given that Will Smith attached, After Earth is certainly going to make its share of cash during the weekend’s movie derby. There’s also little doubt that the fans that his son Jaden acquired during his star making turn in the remake of The Karate Kid will want to tagalong.
And were it more intriguing, After Earth would have something to appeal to both younger and older crowds. Instead it’s a listless special effects piece that never comes close to living up to its promise. Even at a relatively breezy 100 minute runtime, the ambitious (from a narrative standpoint) sci-fi flick easily feels a half hour longer. Instead of zip there’s slog. Instead of adventure the audience is left to wonder when the movie will be over.
That’s not something normally associated with a Will Smith film. Yes, the guy has had a couple of bombs in his career – most notably an ill-conceived adaptation of TV’s Wild Wild West, a positive movie review that I wish that I could take back – but none of his efforts have ever been accused of being boring.
After Earth, however, comes close to committing that sin despite its ambitions. It’s not difficult to see what director-writer M. Night Shyamalan and his writing collaborator Gary Whitta attempted here. After Earth is a minimalist kind of flick with most of dialogue occurring between two characters – Will’s Cypher and Jaden’s Kitai, a father and son at odds with one another.
They are descendants of humans who fled Earth some 10 centuries prior after the planet finally succumbed to millennia of abuse and became uninhabitable.
Cypher is a general in the planet’s military forces and Kitai is a cadet looking to join those forces. Unfortunately, while he has the grades, he doesn’t have what it takes – including an absence of fear against his people’s sworn enemy – to complete his training.
His father views a trip off planet as a way the two of them can bond. However, they end up crash landing on a planet teeming with wildlife both friendly and dangerous. Cypher is critically injured and the ship split in two as a result. The only way for them to get back home is for Kitai to make the track to find a homing beacon to broadcast their location. In the process he has to face the indigenous life forms and his deepest fears.
Has those confrontations been something worth remembering, the Smiths and Shyamalan might have had a movie worth doing the same.
The ultimate problem is that they could have taken the film down a couple other roads and had something far more interesting with respect to narrative.
While Shyamalan produces a visual feast, the storytelling in this coming-of-age story is a bit shaky.
Movie: After Earth
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Will Smiith, Jaden Smith
Rated: PG-13 (sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images.)
Running time: 100 minutes
George’s rating: 2.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com