After Earth * 1/2

Genre: Sci-Fi, Action

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Writers: Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan, based on a story by Will Smith

Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith

Running Length: 100 minutes

Synopsis: A crash landing leaves teenager Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) and his legendary father Cypher (Will Smith) stranded on Earth, 1,000 years after cataclysmic events forced humanity’s escape. With Cypher critically injured, Kitai must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help, facing uncharted terrain, evolved animal species that now rule the planet, and an unstoppable alien creature that escaped during the crash. Father and son must learn to work together and trust one another if they want any chance of returning home.

Review: It’s quite obvious that Will Smith had designed After Earth to be a star vehicle for his son Jaden – after all, he wrote the story the screenplay was based on, and produced this movie together with his wife Jada. Unfortunately, it would seem that the payoff he would be getting out of the movie is likely going to be inadequate – there are so many misfires in After Earth it’s actually hard to pinpoint which is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Suffice to say that if it’s true that Will Smith had intended the movie as the first of a trilogy, he’s going to have a really hard time making the next two films.

It’s not that After Earth is a bad movie, more that it is an ill-conceived one. Ostensibly a coming of age sci-fi flick that also features major father-son bonding, the fact that the two protagonists are separated for a large part of the film makes it nearly impossible for audiences to get a sense of any kinship between the two. This is not aided by the fact that Will Smith essentially spends the movie sitting in a chair, and Jaden’s perfunctory acting skills are not good enough for him to carry lengths of the movie on his own. In fact, there are times where the CGI and the set design (which are both genuinely well done) manage to make more of an impression than Jaden’s stilted performance.

This is exacerbated by the total lack of suspense – since Kitai is honestly the only actively moving actor in the movie, there’s never a true sense of danger even when Kitai gets into trouble. There’s never doubt that he would make it through the ordeal, so even if the character is placed in a situation that seems to lead to impending doom, his continued survival is the only outcome that would make any sense. This predictability greatly detracts from the viewing experience, resulting in a film that seems to drag even though it has a relatively short running time of under two hours.

M. Night Shyamalan has fallen so far from grace that the film has been marketed largely without his name on it, and After Earth would not be the movie that would pull him out from his downward spiral. There are no third-act twists in this film, but it may actually have fared better if there were one (and this is coming from someone who grew very tired of Shyamalan’s plot twists). It would at least have made the proceedings more interesting to sit through.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)


The Hangover Part III * * *

Genre: Comedy

Director: Todd Philips

Writers: Todd Philips and Craig Mazin

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galiafinakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, John Goodnman

Running Length: 100 minutes

Synopsis: In the supposed finale of The Hangover trilogy, there are no weddings and no bachelor parties – but when the Wolf Pack hits the road, all bets are off.

Review: There is little that needs to be said of The Hangover Part III if you have watched the previous two instalments – it’s once again about the Wolf Pack (Bradley Cooper, Zach Galiafinakis, Ed Helms and Justin Bartha) on the road, this time at the bidding of a thug (John Goodman), and its ensuing hijinks. Ken Jeong’s Mr Chow also takes on a leading role this time, with the addition of a memorable cameo from a (increasingly) well-known comedienne. Though much of the shtick is tired and old-hat, The Hangover Part III feels more like a proper sequel to the first movie, as the second movie was merely a facsimile of The Hangover set in a more exotic locale. It’s also a somewhat befitting swan song to the series, if this is truly the end as advertised widely in the film’s marketing campaign.

The Hangover Part III drops the dramatic setup of a drugs- and/or alcohol-fuelled amnesia, and instead presents itself more as a caper movie in the likes of the Ocean’s Eleven franchise. The film is quite dark as a result, which is surprising because the film is marketed as a straight up comedy, and there are more deaths (both human and animal) in this film than in some actual caper movies. While this is largely fine, it does make for an uneasy marriage with the Hangover franchise, and it’s clear in some sequences that Todd Philips was also struggling with the mix. Essentially, it’s almost impossible to kill someone off in a movie and still expect audiences to laugh at the act.

Both Ken Jeong’s Mr Chow and Zach Galiafinakis’ Alan are characters that are entertaining in short bursts; increasing their onscreen presence in The Hangover Part III is thus a double-edged sword: while some of these sequences are funny, these two characters are generally unlikeable and start to grate after a while. Although a female cameo is introduced as Alan’s potential love interest to soften the impact, the film still suffers from this shift in spotlights. Yet, it cannot be denied that there are bright sparks in the film, and for audiences who just want to switch their brains off at the door and enjoy a silly comedy will find themselves capably entertained. I don’t quite believe that this is the end of the series, especially with the mid-credits sequence, but at the same time I cannot really imagine sitting through another Hangover movie. It’s high time to bid farewell to the Wolf Pack, and hopefully the producers will look past the greenbacks and recognize this fact.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)