“After Earth” is not the first time the real-life father/son duo have made a film together. They starred in the 2006 heart-tugger “The Pursuit of Happyness” first, although “After Earth” is a much different sort of movie than “Pursuit.” Now that Jaden is no longer 8 years old, the time seems perfect for the young actor to make like the Even Fresher Prince and pick up where Dad left off in last year’s “Men in Black 3.”
I’d like to think the younger Smith will end up in better movies than “After Earth” as time goes on. It’s one of those ultra-grim, future-set science fiction jobs about one man’s epic quest to survive the elements. Smiths Jaden and Will crash-land their spaceship on Earth 1,000 years after unspecified events forced human evacuation of the planet. Now covered in lush forests where wild creatures roam free, the younger Smith must journey through the treacherous terrain to reach a beacon located miles from their crash site before the elder Smith bleeds to death from an injury on his leg.
“After Earth” does have some swell visual effects, and Jaden Smith’s acting has improved significantly since his disastrous turn as that annoying little brat in “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Even so, the movie isn’t much fun. “After Earth” is littered with dull patches galore, many of them having to do with unnecessary flashbacks involving Jaden’s character’s older sister, who was killed by an alien when he was a child, an event the movie keeps referring to because it’s so obviously building to a climax in which Jaden comes face-to-face with the same ugly creature.
There’s also too much exposition explaining how Earth ended up the way it’s presented. Much like this spring’s similar-but-better “Oblivion,” which also dealt with an evacuated Earth and the lone survivors who inhabited it, “After Earth” doesn’t need to explain the hows and whys of the planet’s fate. Just tell me it’s set in the future and I’ll buy whatever it is you’re selling.
Though this is the first time M. Night Shyamalan has directed a screenplay that he himself did not entirely script, his grim, matter-of-fact direction just doesn’t go well with this material. As Shyamalan has proven with films like “The Last Airbender” and now this, he is so much better at constructing psychological thrillers than he is at special-effects-laden blockbusters. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the pre-“Lady in the Water” Shyamalan made a return to the fore?
★½ out of ★★★★
Rated PG-13 for violence, some of it grisly. 100 minutes.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan. Starring: Jaden Smith, Will Smith.
Read all of Jesse Hoheisel’s reviews at AFistfulofPopcorn.com.