As expensive as it looks, it’s a clunker. After Earth is an under-thought post-apocalyptic adventure with Jaden Smith in the wilderness and Will Smith sidelined with injury in spacecraft wreckage. They will be stuck on a decimated Earth, with hungry baboons and lions to feast on them if they don’t get off. The son Kitai needs to go fetch the rescue beacon, miles and miles away. The father Kaige will stay in contact by radio to mentor and instruct him. Seeing a morose Will Smith is not fun, and even less fun is seeing him motionless for three-quarters of a movie with a broken leg. What hinders the movie ultimately is the listless storytelling, and the directing by M. Night Shyamalan is too precious for me. He is always looking for pathos over staging realistic obstacles.
The adventure, often perfunctory, has endless minutes of walking or kneeling for rest. Weren’t there any re-writes to punch this up? Suddenly, a promise of excitement occurs when Kitai jumps off a cliff, one that’s taller than anything in “Avatar.” Kitai, with hang-glider wings on his back makes the dive, only to be chomped at by a hungry eagle. Just when I thought I needed something exciting to happen, something ridiculous like this happens and I wanted the excitement to stop happening. That reminds me – Shyamalan is never going to live down “The Happening” (2008). Or “Lady in the Water” (2006). Or “The Village” (2004).
I found the opening scenes at odds with the rest of the movie, but the idea here is that climate crisis and population woes ruined the Earth. Future people have found another planet named Nova Prime, this time society conducting themselves harmoniously. In progressive futuristic movies like this the populace is typically calm and civil. But gee, Will Smith is too solemn for this world. He makes you long for the pizzazz of personality that he brought to, I dunno, “I Am Legend” for Christ’s sake.
Flashbacks inform us of a family tragedy, one that spurned Will but motivated Jaden’s character to chase after a ranger occupation. By the end, he doesn’t want that ranger position as much as follow his mom’s occupation (Sophie Okonedo), although I can’t say I understood what she did — she’s a scientist, by claim. This development in following mom’s footsteps was more interesting though than that climactic bug-beast that Jaden fights that takes place… on yet another mountain.
The visuals are too polished, not rugged. That’s the artificiality of Hollywood for you. I got the feeling “After Earth” was made so that father and son Will and Jaden could work together, and so rich gaudy producers could use the background imagery for their own panel screen art at their own post-modern home. This project didn’t originate with Shyamalan, but he did co-write with Gary Whitta (“The Book of Eli”). How these guys are going to move on and live down “After Earth” is beyond me.
100 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
SCI-FI & FANTASY / LAZY VIEWING / FRIDAY NIGHT SUCKFEST