You would think that with all the years Will Smith has been working in show business, he’d know a thing or two about the storytelling process. If After Earth is any indication, the Fresh Prince better not be quitting his day job anytime soon. On the other hand, you would think that after the abysmal Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan would know he’s in desperate need of another hit. But considering his name is nowhere to be found on any of the promotion surround After Earth, you could give him the easy out and say he’s not particularly proud of his latest film, but he probably is — even though he definitely shouldn’t be.
After Earth introduces us to Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith), lying unconscious in a field, while he narrates that he’s heard of Earth, but it has been uninhabited for 1,000 years. After the human race has driven Earth into the ground, aliens — who can smell our fear — show up and try to take over. Earth is evacuated and it is now a Class 1 quarantined planet now evolved to kill humans.
How lucky are Kitai and his father Cypher (Will Smith) then, when they crash land on Earth after an asteroid storm takes out their ship. Now Cypher is stranded with two broken legs, and sends Kitai 100 kilometers into the wild to find the ship’s tail and send an emergency beacon for rescue. Now, Kitai must prove himself to his dad (who continually treats him like a cadet) and save them both, or die trying.
There’s already been so much talk surrounding After Earth and its Scientology roots that it doesn’t do any good to really even mention it. What does need to be discussed is how dismal Shyamalan’s filmmaking skills have become. Don’t get me wrong, After Earth is of course, one slick-looking movie, but that doesn’t make it a good movie. I mentioned Will Smith is credited with the story and that’s fine, anyone can pitch an idea, right? But Shyamalan and co-writer Gary Whitta have cobbled together what will surely wind up being one of summer’s biggest bores. Granted, the pacing all falls back on Shyamalan, but After Earth is chock-full of unintentionally hilarious dialogue. Not helped by the fact that Jaden is using some kind of accent that makes him almost unintelligible half the time.
While After Earth isn’t a complete failure, audiences will surely eat it up considering Will Smith is touted as star, but they should know he’s not. He gets to play second fiddle to his son who, after being reasonably charming in The Karate Kid and cute-as-a-button in The Pursuit of Happyness, is only proving here that that this apple has fallen far from the tree. As for Shyamalan, he seems so dead set on straying from his signature big twists, that his movies have absolutely no surprise factor at all. I’d take another big Village failure over having absolutely no surprise whatsoever.
Maybe it’s a sign that Will just isn’t praying hard enough to Xenu. After all, Tom Cruise hasn’t had anywhere near as many misfires in spite of how outrageous his personal life gets. After Earth is one of only two new films this weekend, do yourself a favor and see anything else.
Photo courtesy Columbia Pictures