Opinion

MOVIE REVIEW: 'After Earth' is a planet to avoid

This film publicity image released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows Will Smith, left, and Jaden Smith in a scene from "After Earth." (Sony, Columbia Pictures)

Clocking in at little more than 90 minutes, "After Earth" has to be one of the shortest summer "blockbusters" on record. That's the good news.

The not-so-good news is that the film, a vanity project for Will Smith and family, could easily have been condensed to a "Twilight Zone" episode -- and a lesser one at that. In fact, the late Rod Serling might have rejected the story and its execution as simply too predictable for his TV series.

But in Hollywood, it's hard to say no to Smith, whose long string of summertime hits makes studio bosses salivate. When Smith comes calling with a sci-fi flick he wants to make, co-starring his son Jaden, the correct answer is: Sure, how much money do you need?

The problems start with the story itself, which is attributed to Smith. The humans of Earth have abused the planet so badly, they eventually have to leave for a distant world, Nova Prime. (That premise, which isn't remotely original, also turns up this year in at least two other films: "Oblivion," with Tom Cruise, and the upcoming "Elysium," with Matt Damon.)

Protecting the humans on their new world from the indigenous "monsters," who take a dim view of their arrival, is the United Ranger Corps, led by their legendary general Cypher Raige (Will Smith). His son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), is a ranger-in-training who just can't seem to cut it when he gets out in the field. Part of the reason is the guilt he feels over the death of his sister (Zoe Kravitz), who was slain by a monster while trying to protect him. And then there's the fact that he feels he will never live up to the nerves-of-steel bravery of his father.

Pressed by his wife (Sophie Okonedo) to get closer to his son, Cypher Raige agrees to take the kid on his final mission, a training exercise that involves carting along one of those monsters. But their spaceship is severely damaged in a meteor storm and crashes onto the one planet in the entire galaxy least hospitable to humans. Yep, you guessed it, they're back on Earth -- a drastically changed world where all creatures, big and small, have evolved with a singular instinct: to destroy humans.

Father and son are the only survivors, and dad is severely injured. So it's up to Kitai to find a lost rescue beacon from a part of the ship that broke off before the crash. That means crossing a rugged landscape loaded with nasty killer baboons, evolved tigers and really, really big condors. Oh, and that monster onboard? It's on the loose, too.

Folks who think they're paying money for a Will Smith action flick will instead find themselves watching the actor trapped in a spacecraft, giving Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque wisdom (you half expect him to utter, "Feel the force, Kitai") from a distance while his son does the heavy lifting.

Not to beat up on the kid. Jaden Smith has shown flashes of talent and a bit of his father's charisma, but absolutely no actor, young or old, could carry this load. The story is clunky. The setup for the main tale is ineptly handled. Bits of the plot, including the environmental science of the new Earth, make no sense. The dialogue is leaden. And the special effects are surprisingly unconvincing, a step or two above the effects in those deliberately cheese ball sci-fi flicks the Syfy channel shows on Saturday night.

You can chalk up much of the movie's failure to the man at the helm: director and co-writer M. Night Shyamalan. After making one terrific film -- "The Sixth Sense," his 1999 debut -- Shyamalan's career has slid with ever-increasing speed into the cinematic abyss. His last film, 2010's "The Last Airbender," was such a dud that it looked like it might be his last. Continued...

Maybe the Smith family missed "Airbender," or maybe they believe in the power of redemption. Either way, it was a bad mistake, because Shyamalan's work on this film is a dismal as it was on "Airbender," which makes "After Earth" a likely contender when those worst films of the year lists come out in December.

Rating: PG-13 (for action violence and scary images)

Cast: Will Smith and Jaden Smith

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Clocking in at little more than 90 minutes, "After Earth" has to be one of the shortest summer "blockbusters" on record. That's the good news.

The not-so-good news is that the film, a vanity project for Will Smith and family, could easily have been condensed to a "Twilight Zone" episode -- and a lesser one at that. In fact, the late Rod Serling might have rejected the story and its execution as simply too predictable for his TV series.

But in Hollywood, it's hard to say no to Smith, whose long string of summertime hits makes studio bosses salivate. When Smith comes calling with a sci-fi flick he wants to make, co-starring his son Jaden, the correct answer is: Sure, how much money do you need?

The problems start with the story itself, which is attributed to Smith. The humans of Earth have abused the planet so badly, they eventually have to leave for a distant world, Nova Prime. (That premise, which isn't remotely original, also turns up this year in at least two other films: "Oblivion," with Tom Cruise, and the upcoming "Elysium," with Matt Damon.)

Protecting the humans on their new world from the indigenous "monsters," who take a dim view of their arrival, is the United Ranger Corps, led by their legendary general Cypher Raige (Will Smith). His son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), is a ranger-in-training who just can't seem to cut it when he gets out in the field. Part of the reason is the guilt he feels over the death of his sister (Zoe Kravitz), who was slain by a monster while trying to protect him. And then there's the fact that he feels he will never live up to the nerves-of-steel bravery of his father.

Pressed by his wife (Sophie Okonedo) to get closer to his son, Cypher Raige agrees to take the kid on his final mission, a training exercise that involves carting along one of those monsters. But their spaceship is severely damaged in a meteor storm and crashes onto the one planet in the entire galaxy least hospitable to humans. Yep, you guessed it, they're back on Earth -- a drastically changed world where all creatures, big and small, have evolved with a singular instinct: to destroy humans.

Father and son are the only survivors, and dad is severely injured. So it's up to Kitai to find a lost rescue beacon from a part of the ship that broke off before the crash. That means crossing a rugged landscape loaded with nasty killer baboons, evolved tigers and really, really big condors. Oh, and that monster onboard? It's on the loose, too.

Folks who think they're paying money for a Will Smith action flick will instead find themselves watching the actor trapped in a spacecraft, giving Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque wisdom (you half expect him to utter, "Feel the force, Kitai") from a distance while his son does the heavy lifting.

Not to beat up on the kid. Jaden Smith has shown flashes of talent and a bit of his father's charisma, but absolutely no actor, young or old, could carry this load. The story is clunky. The setup for the main tale is ineptly handled. Bits of the plot, including the environmental science of the new Earth, make no sense. The dialogue is leaden. And the special effects are surprisingly unconvincing, a step or two above the effects in those deliberately cheese ball sci-fi flicks the Syfy channel shows on Saturday night.

You can chalk up much of the movie's failure to the man at the helm: director and co-writer M. Night Shyamalan. After making one terrific film -- "The Sixth Sense," his 1999 debut -- Shyamalan's career has slid with ever-increasing speed into the cinematic abyss. His last film, 2010's "The Last Airbender," was such a dud that it looked like it might be his last.

Maybe the Smith family missed "Airbender," or maybe they believe in the power of redemption. Either way, it was a bad mistake, because Shyamalan's work on this film is a dismal as it was on "Airbender," which makes "After Earth" a likely contender when those worst films of the year lists come out in December.

Rating: PG-13 (for action violence and scary images)

Cast: Will Smith and Jaden Smith

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

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