Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: After Earth

It’s not often that you can predict an actor’s fall from the grace of the public. Sure, I think we all knew deep down that sooner or later people were going to turn on Tom Cruise, and let’s be honest here, if all it took was jumping on a couch that’s more on them than him. Along those same lines, it’s been a long time since there has been a more awkward PR tour than the one Will Smith is giving now to promote After Earth, his latest sci-fi film that hits theaters today. In interview after interview, sitting alongside his on-and-off screen son Jaden, he espouses his theory that the world is made up of patterns, mathematical in nature, that control everything that we experience on a daily basis. While Will proclaims himself to be a physicist, Jaden is avoiding questions about dating a Kardashian.

Why do I even bring this up? Because gossiping about the Smiths’ weird behavior is ten times more entertaining than discussing the albatross that they have released upon theatergoers today.

In After Earth, humans have left Earth after destroying with wars and pollution. Opening 1,000 years after that forced evacuation, we are still battling the original inhabitants of our new home, named Nova Prime.  After a long tour-of-duty, Cypher Raige (Will Smith) returns home to reconnect with the family he left behind, especially his now teenaged son Kitai (Jaden Smith) who has grown distant.

While traveling through space on a father-son trip, their craft is damaged by an asteroid storm. Seeking a landing spot on the nearest planet, they crash land on a now dangerous Earth. The only two surviving members of the crash, a badly injured Cypher sends Kitai on a mission to recover the craft’s rescue beacon and call for help before he bleeds to death. Kitai takes off across unknown territory filled with animals that have evolved into killing machines.

Well, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but so is everything else in this film. For some reason, hawks have now gained the ability to grow to be twice the size of humans, but wild boars look the same and run for cover around humans. The planet also now suffers from nightly Ice Ages, with the temperature dropping five degrees every ten minutes at a certain time of day (except for a handful of conveniently placed “hot spots”). This results in one of my favorite bad movie clichés: someone attempting to outrun the weather.

The director of this disaster is the man, the myth, the legend himself, M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense). Remember when this dude was being called the new Hitchcock by folks with straight faces? The days when his new films were eagerly awaited by filmgoers? Well, now he’s a joke, and both Columbia Pictures and the Smiths’ have done everything in their powers to hide the fact that he has anything to do with this film. “Maybe if we just don’t mention a director, people will assume that the film magically made itself!”

To be honest, there really aren’t that many of Shyamalan’s signature touches to be found here. Sure, we have the whispered, intense conversations between father and son that are the norm in his pictures, but there isn’t a twist to be found within a thousand miles of After Earth. That’s right, when we finally beg the guy for something interesting, he carries on like he’s directing an episode of Mike & Molly.

Will Smith is credited with the story, which sees his character sidelined with broken legs early on, and asks Jaden to carry the film from thereon out. The junior Smith was fine in both The Pursuit of Happyness and the Karate Kid remake. In Pursuit, he wasn’t asked to do much; in KK, Jackie Chan did all of the heavy lifting onscreen. Here he is given the unenviable task of being the sole character onscreen for vast amounts of time, with little dialogue to help fill the spaces and only his charisma to rely on. The problems begin when we realize that Jaden is no Will; there is little charisma or charm to be found in this kid, which may be unfair to say about a 15 year old, but you have to point the arrow somewhere when a $130 million production plays like a backyard mumblecore flick.
Usually a reviewer takes the last paragraph to boil down his points, give a final thought, and basically tells you whether to watch the movie or avoid it. Forget that; honestly, do you know anyone that has actually been awaiting this thing? It’s safe to say that most of you were going to skip this one anyway, so instead I suggest you do what I plan on doing: sit back, enjoy the carnage that follows when this bombs, and speculate as to how quickly the Smiths’ will disown any creative contribution they gave to this stinker.

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