A story conceived by a movie star who doesn’t write them, featuring favoritism casting for the lead actor who cannot carry a film, and directed by a guy who has become a running joke in Hollywood. Often gorgeous, sometimes fascinating, but it is ultimately clumsy and predictable. However, the primary problem is the needlessly convoluted story. “After Earth” missteps pertain to the conception and execution, similar to the baffling choices M. Night Shyamalan made that kept “The Happening” (2008) from fulfilling its doomsday-flick potential. On a positive note for Mr. Smith, its not as terrible as “Wild, Wild West” (1999).
Will Smith plays a general living in a gleaming new city created in outer space after Earthbecame uninhabitable. Ordered by his beautiful wife (an ill-served Sophie Okonedo) to bond with their depressed son (“He doesn’t need a commanding officer, he needs a father”), Smith takes the lad on a flight to another planet. On the way they run into an interstellar storm, crash-land on the abandoned Earth, and the boy (played by Smith’s real-life son, Jaden) must make a hazardous journey to find a beacon that will bring assistance to his injured dad. It’s dull stuff, indifferently staged, with heavy-handed references toMoby-Dick.
A father and son crash land on a hostile planet Earth 1000 years after humanity left. In order to survive, the son has to make a 100- kilometer trek to find an emergency beacon so they can call for help. However, too much set-up in the story is a mess. Why did humanity leave earth 1000 years ago? Why were genetically engineered creatures hunting humanity across the galaxy? Why were these creatures made to smell the pheromones we exude when we are afraid? Why were these creatures not given eyes once select soldiers learned to “ghost,” which is to suppress any fear and become invisible to them? Why do people eat with three-pronged chopsticks with a cheater rubber band around the end? Who let that herd of fake-looking bison roam Earth’s grasslands, and who lit the critical scene, set on a tree stump amid roaring waterfalls, that was obviously shot on a sound stage? I could go on.
Jaden Smith, who was fine in “The Karate Kid” (2012), is unqualified and provides a completely flat performance in this role. For all the verbal abuse M. Night Shyamalan is receiving from his latest effort, he is not the main reason this bland sci-fi film fails. He happens to be the well-paid choice for this special effects extravaganza, solely responsible for constructing a center stage for Jaden Smith, that unfortunately only magnifies Jaden’s inexperience, and he has no business what so ever trying to carry this film. Despite the stylized dialogue assembled by screenwriters Shyamalan and Gary Whitta “The Book of Eli” (2010), his horrendous line delivery and complete lack of emotional range stifle any of the hopelessly unimaginative screenplay’s contrived father/son drama. The elder Smith may have a story credit here, but “After Earth” is not only a laughably obvious attempt to keep his son relevant, but also a by-the- numbers survival story that never manages to surprise or excite.