I wish he’d take a knee on his acting career.

Theatrical Release Date: 05/31/2013
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoë Kravitz
Rated: Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images.
Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes


Go volcano! Go!

In my most recent Soapbox, I equated After Earth as being essentially the same thematically as another science fiction film from earlier this year, Oblivion. Now that I’ve seen both movies in their entirety, I could not have been more wrong. Comparing the two, I’d watch Tom Cruise’s sci-fi pic another billion times before even thinking of seeing this again. (Oh, but please read on, I want to bash this film some more.)

Oblivion is flawed by its director creating a passable piece of entertainment but devoid of any original thought. After Earth also manages to avoid much in the way of originality but fails to at least cover the entertaining part and instead has managed to suffer from the M. Night Shyamalan effect. He once made interesting movies but has quickly devolved into becoming a director studios know to hide from their marketing materials because of the general audience reaction to seeing his name on a project; all because he’s apparently become allergic to making good films. Let me put it this way, if I were to say which two films of his that After Earth most closely resembled, it would be The Happening and The Last Airbender. Yuck and double Yuck.

The plot here is that humans have had to leave Earth due to our ability to pollute and destroy the planet. The planet we sought out as a refuge was also occupied by aliens who had this love of killing humans. The manner in which we gained the upper hand was via the messianic warrior played by Will Smith who managed to control his fear rendering him invisible to these aliens who could only “see” us by the pheromones secreted when we’re afraid. He and his son are aboard a spaceship that crash lands on Earth (killing everyone but the two of them and the alien they brought along, don’t even get me started on this plot point) and it’s up to Jaden to retrieve a homing beacon that fell miles and miles away from where the pair of them ended up. Along the way, he must avoid being killed by nature and the alien that’s conveniently hanging out near the beacon.

Putting aside the almost comical and oh so forced plot point that this creates (they might as well have cast Jonathan Lipnicki to tell us that bees and dogs smell fear), I hope you didn’t come to After Earth to see Will Smith kick alien ass because you get one scene (yes, ONE scene) of him even swinging a weapon. The movie is actually about his son, played by … his son … Jaden Smith; which is a large portion of the problem but I’ll get to that shortly.

I wrote earlier that this is basically like The Happening and The Last Airbender. Here’s why: Earth has apparently evolved into a hostile environment for humans, i.e. nature revolted against us because we polluted it so badly. Yeah, we get the message Shyamalan. Then there’s the director’s ability to elicit the worst possible acting performances out of children. I don’t know what’s happened to him in the past few years considering his breakout feature involved a kid who could see dead people that many people would agree contained a decent performance from that child but if Jaden Smith had given a worse performance, they might have had to rename the Razzie award after him.

It starts with the choice to give him and his father this quasi-accent that actually just sounded like you put marbles in their mouths. Within the first few delivered lines of dialogue, I wondered if I was going to need to turn on the subtitles to understand what the hell these two were saying. That ridiculously annoying and at times unintelligible speech pattern carries throughout and it never fails to be a distraction.

Then there’s Smiths’ acting. And yes, I meant to put the apostrophe there. I’m talking about both of them. Their acting is so wooden they probably had to get termite insurance for the production. Again, some of that stems from an apparent attempt to make them seem stoic, as some sort of byproduct to a military system built on breeding soldiers who could face danger without fear, but the actual effect on-screen is a disengaged and uninteresting father-son dynamic devoid of worthwhile exploration.

Simply put, After Earth would have more appropriately been titled The Pursuit of Happyness 2: In Space Boogaloo. The effects are decent though nothing is spectacular enough to warrant watching it for the visuals alone. The actings is stiff and lifeless, even with the understanding that there was intention behind it. The direction is shoddy and only reinforces the general reputation Shyamalan has cultivated in recent years. The script is paint-by-number and all of the film’s events could have been circumvented if the highly trained flight crew of the highly advanced spaceship they were aboard was able to transmit a SOS sometime between them exiting a wormhole to avoid an asteroid shower and landing on the now quarantined Earth. They had the time to do it but somehow avoided this very basic idea … forcing the audience to endure a very, very ,very ,very, very boring and lackluster film.

If you want Will Smith and aliens, re-watch Independence Day or Men in Black. If you want Jaden Smith, well I frankly don’t understand how you feel, so go ahead and waste your money here. If you want a good M. Night Shyamalan film, invent a time machine and go back 14 years. For everyone else, movie theaters these days have a great number of different films showing in the same location. See any of the other ones. After Earth is only slightly less boring than The Last Airbender and I can only hope audiences realize this and don’t reward this dreck with a respectable opening weekend take.

1.5 out of 5