Much has been made about the downward spiral of the career of writer and director M. Night Shyamalan. There are those who take delight in seeing the once high-and-mighty lain low, but I find it to be more sad than anything else.
For me, watching a Shyamalan movie these days is like seeing a once-dominant pitcher lose his fastball; going out and getting shelled night after night.
I’m sure he must have thought that working with one of the world’s most bankable stars, Will Smith, for the new movie “After Earth” would be just the thing to pull him out of Hollywood purgatory. Unfortunately, he’s just slipped further down the spiral.
“After Earth” is a clunky sci-fi tale that is surprisingly dull and filled with a lot of unfortunate creative choices.
The actual star of the movie is Will’s son Jaden Smith, who certainly possesses his father’s professionalism and traces of his charm, but the jury is still out on whether he inherited any acting ability.
Set 1,000 years into the future “After Earth” has Will and Jaden playing father and son Cypher and Kitai Raige. Humanity has abandoned Earth and now lives in some other corner of the galaxy where it is at war with a race of giant, bug-like aliens.
At least, I think that’s what was going on because Jaden’s voice-over prologue is almost impossible to understand thanks to the bizarro “future accent” everyone in this movie is saddled with.
Look, in all likelihood, humans 1,000 years from now will speak differently than we do today, but this Esperanto-inspired mash-up of world accents is more awkward and distracting than anything else. Frankly, I wish the movie was more concerned with plot development and basic logic than how future man will pronounce his Rs.
Even though the screenplay was written by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta, the “story by” credit is given to Will Smith, which actually makes a lot of sense as the movie doesn’t seem to have been given much more thought than a pitch at a cocktail party in the Hollywood Hills. Plus, who is going to tell Will Smith that his idea for a movie is stupid?
“After Earth” just doesn’t sweat the details, which is a fine attitude for a romantic comedy, but is a bit more problematic in science fiction as this movie doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny whatsoever.
We are told humans left the Earth because of over-pollution, which I’m down with; hey, I saw “WALL-E” too, Will. But when unfortunate circumstances result in Cypher (a general of some kind) and Kitai (a military cadet) being the only survivors of a crash-landing on Earth they find an incredibly lush and vibrant planet. It looks like Mother Nature shook off global destruction like a coed with a hangover.
Cypher is critically injured in the crash and is forced to send Kitai into the wilderness to retrieve a distress beacon. Before he leaves, Cypher tells Kitai to be careful because everything out there has evolved to kill humans. Say what? It seems odd that nature would spend all that time adapting to kill a species that hasn’t lived on the planet for 1,000 years.
Kitai ventures out into a world that spontaneously freezes every night and features super-poisonous leeches and eagles that have quadrupled in size. Why? Evolution isn’t the answer as lions from the Middle Ages looked exactly like lions today; so what was it? Mutations from pollution? Did the Earth move closer to the sun? Are damn, dirty apes to blame? Come on movie, give me something. My fourth-grade science class has a lot of problems with this film.
In addition to Earth’s inexplicably supercharged flora and fauna, one of the dreaded aliens that was held prisoner on board Kitai and Cypher’s ship has survived and escaped. I’ve got a lot of problems with these aliens, which basically have no weapons and no senses other than the ability to detect human fear. If we set aside the fact that a blind and deaf adversary would be remarkably susceptible to bullets; we are left with a creature that really only serves to set up the movie’s main theme, which is conquering fear.
Cypher is considered a great warrior because he is fearless and thus invisible to the aliens (again, guns). In addition to this all being a little too on the nose, having Will play a stoic, emotionless character (something he is certainly capable of doing) completely handcuffs his ability to bring any of his trademark charisma and warmth to this humorless movie.
Will and Jaden won’t be harmed much by this underwhelming effort, but you have to wonder how much longer people will continue to give Shyamalan money to make lousy movies. It’s almost shocking; a director going from putting his name above the title to out of work in less than 10 years seems like a more convincing work of science fiction than “After Earth.”
“After Earth” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images.