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)

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