Reviews For The Easily Distracted: After Earth

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Title: After Earth

Sure Seems Like It Took A Long Time For The Kid Of A Hollywood A-Lister To Make The Big Time: Don't let Kiefer Sutherland or Scott Caan hear you say that.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two copies of George Michael's "Father Figure" single out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: In what had to be the worst adolescence on record, the teenage son of a legendary soldier is forced to deal with his daddy issues while simultaneously being pursued by murderous predators on post-apocalyptic Earth.

Tagline: "Danger is real. Fear is a choice."

Better Tagline: "Had a dad, big and strong."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: In the near future, everything Al Gore warned us about comes true and mankind flees Earth to settle on the interstellar colony of Nova Prime. Once there, humans find themselves at war with an alien race and their killer pets (the Ursa), with only the Ranger Corps to defend them. Now, 1,000 years hence, the greatest of these Rangers is their general Cypher Raige (Will Smith) -- no, really -- who, in an attempt to bond with his cadet son Kitai (Jaden Smith), brings him along on a mission. As luck would have it, they crash land on Earth, where the indigenous fauna, apparently pissed after several millennia of abuse, have "evolved to kill humans."

See It/Rent It/Skip It: Skip it. Will Smith has enough money.

"Critical" Analysis: The easy shot to take at After Earth is: "Hey, it's an M. Night Shyamalan movie that isn't The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable; of course it sucks." Except in this case I don't think it's entirely his fault.

For starters, the story is Will Smith's baby, inspired by -- no, really -- the show I Shouldn't Be Alive, only instead of son going for help in the woods after his dad is injured in a car crash, Smith decided sci-fi it up a little. The script was a collaboration between Book of Eli screenwriter Gary Whitta and Shyamalan, but also featured input from Stephen Syriana Gaghan and Mark Zero Dark Thirty Boal. That's a pretty impressive assortment of potential culprits.

So I can't tell you who's to blame for things like General "Raige" being literally one mission from retirement, or the fact that most of future Earth experiences a hard freeze every single night, yet is still lushly forested, or how species could evolve over the course of a mere thousand years to get a serious hate on for human beings, when no humans have been on the planet that entire time.

Then again, cringeworthy dialogue -- Raige tells Kitai to "center himself in the now" or some such -- certainly has that M. Night feel. As does the extended interlude when Raige explains to his son how he learned the art of "ghosting" (the blind Ursa hunt using human's fear pheromones, which Raige was the first to learn how to control), which is ridiculously reminiscent of "Swing away" from Signs.

Similarly, the entire setup feels exactly like what someone would come up with after deciding his father-son car crash idea needed a more tentpole treatment. The scenes depicting Earth's demise are offered perfunctorily, as is the description of mankind's current status, delivered almost as an afterthought as Kitai lays dying (well, poisoned).

But we can't blame Shyamalan for bad acting (mostly because he didn't famously try to inset himself into the narrative this time around). Will Smith isn't terrible, and it's interesting to see the action star relegated to second tier status thanks to Raige's suffering two broken legs in the crash. Unfortunately, that means Jaden has to carry the movie, and ... he's just not up to the task. By turns wooden, petulant, and more wooden, the kid lacks any of his dad's easy charisma. Maybe he'll grow into it, but there's no evidence of that here.

As an M. Night Shyamalan movie, After Earth is far from the worst, but taken on its own merits, it's simply not very good.

After Earth is in theaters today. I think I'd rather have gotten an Independence Day sequel.

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