*In recent years, the name M. Night Shyamalan has become synonymous with mediocre movies with a humdinger of a twist tacked on at the very end. Meanwhile, Will Smith has been so successful as the perennial star of a string of summer blockbusters, that he’s been crowned “Mr. July.”
Thus, when the two former Philadelphians decide to collaborate on a film project, something ostensibly has to give. Will Shyamalan stem his decade-long decline or will Will’s winning streak come to an abrupt end?
Looking a little more like a Shyamalan than a Smith production, this cheapo, post-apocalyptic adventure suffers from a combination of miscasting and cheesy special f/x (reminiscent of Lost in Space, the Sixties TV series). Consequently, After Earth pales in comparison with a couple of other sci-fi pictures presently in theaters, specifically, Star Trek 12 and Iron Man 3.
At least this futuristic, Shyamalan offering doesn’t turn on rabbit-out-a-hat resolution. In fact, quite to the contrary, the predictable ending of this stranded and I want to go home saga is an exercise in the obvious established by the premise.
As for the acting, Will Smith is normally good for a little comic relief even in his dramatic outings. Here, however, that trademark flair for the flamboyant he regularly exhibited on TV as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is nowhere in sight.
Instead, he displays a sober stoicism from start to finish as General Cypher Raige, the forbidding father of Kitai (Jaden Smith), an aspiring ranger eager to prove his worth as a soldier. He gets his chance when they are the only survivors of an intergalactic expedition crash-landing on Earth, a planet abandoned by humanity a millennium earlier.
With the General wounded and the spaceship crippled, it is up to Kitai to embark on a hundred-kilometer trip through the jungle alone to retrieve the emergency beacon from the detached tail section. This proves to be no mean feat, since the forest is covered with a variety of voracious, man-eating creatures.
Will Smith proceeds to spend the balance of the movie sitting in the damaged fuselage surrounded by unspooled reams of what looks like toilet paper. Unbudgeted scenery aside, this film is really designed as a vehicle for his real-life son, Jaden, whose performance in front of the blue screen is tarnished a tad by a high-pitched voice yet to crack.
They say, there comes a time in every black comedian’s career when he’s asked to put on a dress. Well, it seems the same can be said about appearing in a campy sci-fi as demonstrated by Billy Cosby in Leonard Part 6, Eddie Murphy in The Adventures of Pluto Nash and John Witherspoon in Cosmic Slop.
A simplistic, father-son morality play strictly for little kids and diehard Will and Jaden Smith fans. Destined to be added to the pantheon of inadvertently-funny blaxploitation flicks with a devoted cult following.
Good (2 stars)
PG-13 for action violence and disturbing images
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Watch the trailer for “After Earth”: