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After Earth
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by Peter Sobczynski

"You Would Be Better Off With After MASH"
1 stars

Although the commercials and promotional materials go to extraordinary lengths to disguise the fact, "After Earth" is the latest work from M. Night Shyamalan, the shy and retiring filmmaker who became an overnight sensation with the wildly overrated "The Sixth Sense," followed that up with the wildly underrated "Unbreakable" and "Signs" (not counting the last 10 minutes of the latter) and then embarked on a string of increasingly ludicrous and critically lambasted thrillers such as "The Village," "Lady in the Water" and "The Happening" that eventually culminated in the massive artistic and commercial failure that was "The Last Airbender." As bad as those later movies were--and they were as dreadful as can be--all of them, with the exception of the incoherent and literally unwatchable "The Last Airbender," at least had something that one could look upon in a positive manner--a performance here, a visual frill there--and convince themselves that Shyamalan might eventually pull himself together and make another good movie. With "After Earth," however, that hope is now officially gone and the guy who once had us seeing dead people has nothing left to offer but a dead movie.

Set a thousand years in the future, "After Earth" starts off on Nova Prime, a distant planet where the last survivors of Earth have fled after their home planet became completely uninhabitable due to war, pollution and the like. The elite members of this new society belong to a military force that keep order and stave off attacks from the vile native creatures that literally track their prey by smelling their fear by a process of putting away their terrors that they refer to as "ghosting." Of them, the best of the best is the Prime Commander himself, the one and only Cypher Raige (Will Smith), but following in his footsteps is proving to be difficult for his son, young Kitai (Jaden Smith), a cadet-in-training who yearns to one day be a ranger just like the old man. Alas, while Kitai is allegedly just as brilliant as his father, he lacks the necessary skills in the field to make the grade. This does nothing to ease the father-son tensions that have been growing between them ever since a family tragedy--one that we bear witness to thanks to a series of ever-expanding flashbacks--and things don't look to be getting better anytime soon now that Cypher is about to retire from the service. Yes, we have finally gotten to the point where Will Smith is playing characters who have gotten too old for this shit, a sentiment that most viewers will find themselves sharing long before the film ends.

In an attempt to finally reach out to his son, Cypher decides to take Kitai along with him on his last mission, but things go slightly awry when their ship hits an asteroid shower and they are forced to make a crash landing on--you guessed it--Earth that kills everybody on board but them. The only hope for survival is to set off a rescue beacon but it is contained in a section of the craft that has landed 100 kilometers away from their location. To make matters worse, Cypher's legs are broken and it is up to Kitai to make the journey through the dangerous terrain to reach it while avoiding all the unfamiliar native creatures along the way. If that weren't enough, the transport ship also contained one of Nova Prime's native monsters and there is a chance that it also survived the crash and is out there ready to indulge in a little bit of human-hunting itself.

In theory, this could have been the basis for an interesting little adventure film--something along the lines of a futuristic version of one of those Jack London sagas that taught me at an early age that Mother Nature was the cruelest of mistresses--but "After Earth" not only makes every mistake that one could possibly imagine, it even comes up with a few that no sober mind could possibly anticpate. In fact, the screenplay devised by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta (who also wrote the dopey post-apocalyptic saga "The Book of Eli") is pure and unadulterated gibberish from beginning to end. The early scenes highlighting the father-son tensions are laughably bad and will be of value only to those who have always wondered what "The Great Santini" might have been like if only it had been written by Gene Roddenberry. After they crash, the rest of the film consists of our twerpy hero evading dangers that he largely brings upon himself due to hotheadedness and general incompetence with occasional cutaways to his dad slowly bleeding out in the ship's wreckage while delivering monologues about the nature of fear that suggest that the theories of a certain religion/cult have indeed survived the apocalypse in the future.

This is pretty thin soup as screenplays go; even the expanding flashback doesn't amount to anything much when it finally reveals itself. After a while, I became increasingly convinced that everything that was happening was merely a ruse and that Shyamalan had some big twist up his sleeve; after hearing about Kitai's training failure early on, I thought that the film might turn out to be a feature-length version of the opening scene of "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan." This is not to say that this would have been a good or even a satisfactory conceit but at least it would have been something. Alas, this is as disappointingly straightforward and bereft of genuine creativity as you can imagine. Then I began to wonder why Will Smith, whose star may be waning slightly but who can still do pretty much anything he wants, would choose to hitch his star to such a tired and oftentimes idiotic premise. Then the end credits began to roll and my question was answered in four short words. "Story by Will Smith."

For Shyamalan, this is the first film that he has done as a strictly work-for-hire project since making his breakthrough but to give him credit (or blame), he certainly makes the material his own in the sense that it is virtually indistinguishable from his other terrible movies. Instead of trying to find a more rough-and-ready style that might have fit better with the Boy's Life Adventure story that he is telling, he instead applies his usual, overly mannered stylistic approach consisting of dramatic pauses where there should be action, hushed whispers during which we are straining to understand what the characters are saying and weird electronic noises banging away at the soundtrack that do little more than call attention to themselves. As for the futuristic worlds presented here, they are big disappointments as well--Nova Prime is the kind of antiseptic City of Tomorrow that might have been presented at a World's Fair in the Seventies, Earth and its denizens provide no surprises and the big bad alien seems to have been inspired by a police sketch artist's rendering of the Cloverfield monster. The one item I dead like was the computer that Cypher utilizes to monitor Kitai and his chances--without going into details, the analyses it offers suggest that it was made by the same company that built the readout monitor used in "Speed 2" and yes, I am officially drifting at this point.

Beyond Shyamalan and the script, the real flaw with "After Earth" is that it is a two-character piece in which neither character proves to be even remotely interesting. When working with the right material, Will Smith can be an immensely likable performer and if the film does any business at all before the sure-to-be-horrendous word-of-mouth kicks in, it will be from his still-significant fan base wanting to see him in the middle of a big futuristic adventure. Imagine their surprise, however, when they find him playing a sour and unpleasant grump who spends most of his screen time literally stuck in a chair while mumbling orders and musings on how fear is merely an illusion while trying not to pass out from massive blood loss.

Instead, the film is basically another showcase for Smith's real-life son Jaden to demonstrate his acting abilities in an effort to get another acting dynasty going. Unfortunately, as second-generation talents go, Jaden Smith is much closer to Sofia Coppola the actress than to Sofia Coppola the filmmaker. His acting is so-so at best and downright irritating at worst, he demonstrates zero charisma and every time he appears on the screen, he looks as though he would rather be back in his trailer playing with his XBox than plying his trade and developing a character. Long before the movie ends, most viewers will be wishing that they could switch out both Smiths and replace them with Jimmy Fallon and Bruce Springsteen.

With the opening of "After Earth," the cinematic summer of 2013 can officially lay claim to its first unqualified disaster. Oh sure, the last couple of weeks have offered up plenty of lousy movies but this shows complete contempt and disregard for anyone foolish enough to fork over $10 to see it in the hopes of getting some trace degree of entertainment value for their money. It practically beggars belief that a major studio could not only have the nerve to produce such a thing but to spend upwards of $130 million in the process of doing so. You know how watching most blockbusters these days is like watching somebody else playing a video game? Watching "After Earth" is not only akin to watching someone playing the old "E.T." game that Atari put out back in the day but it is one of the few entertainment experiences I can recall that compares unfavorably to that legendary betrayal of audience goodwill towards a once-proud name--several of them, in this case. Earth included.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24533&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/30/13 13:27:16
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User Comments

9/26/18 Charles Tatum No disaster, but don't hold your breath for a sequel 3 stars
5/29/17 Bryan He's had quite a few shots lol. 1 stars
3/13/17 David How can the director's choice of which script to direct not be the director's fault? 2 stars
3/22/16 David H. Worse than having wisdom teeth removed 1 stars
2/16/14 marees wow! absolutely fantastic film review. I bought the blu-ray because I am will smith and sci 2 stars
11/01/13 mr.mike Not as bad as its rep. 3.5 stars. 3 stars
8/17/13 Man Out Six Bucks Looking forward to "After Shyamalan" 2 stars
8/01/13 Suzie Williams Wanted to like this movie but it was so slow. Wasted potential. 2 stars
6/18/13 Pierre Mosbey Terrible 2 stars
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  31-May-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 08-Oct-2013

  07-Jun-2013 (12A)

  DVD: 08-Oct-2013

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