While I always thought The Sixth Sense was a highly overrated movie, Unbreakable remains one of my all time favorite films. So whenever director M. Night Shyamalan comes out with something new I’m sort of interested. After a string of duds he plays it safe with his latest, After Earth; why not when you have a bankable star like Will Smith and his offspring Jaden Smith, headlining your project. It is a license to print money.
As a general rule I hate child stars, mainly because I’m, admittedly, insanely jealous, but you have to give young Jaden Smith credit. He clearly inherited his father’s work ethic, as After Earth is a big bait and switch. It is billed as a Will Smith movie, but really it is all about Jaden’s character Kitai Raige. Everything Kitai does is aimed at trying to please his domineering father the legendary soldier and hero Cypher Raige.
It is hard not to get a feeling that the relationship between Kitai and Cypher may mirror the real life relationship between father and son. Cypher clearly loves his son but does not know how to express it. Many will see Will’s (can’t use Smith in this review) performance as being stiff and robotic. In many ways this is true, but it is who the character is and he adds just enough of a background emotional element that it largely works. I loved Cypher’s speech to his son about the difference between fear and danger.
The problem with the movie is not how stiff both Will and Jaden seem, it is whenever they open their mouths; for some reason they decided to go with some weird, stilted accent that sounded vaguely British. You could physically see them concentrating on speaking and not letting the words flow naturally. It was laughably bad. The opening features Jaden doing one of the worst voiceover narrations in movie history.
Based on Jaden’s failed narration, I had no idea how they got to where they were at the beginning of the movie. It has something to do with humans destroying Earth, followed by Alien invasion and being forced to leave the planet. Then there was something about Rangers not being able to fight the aliens until they bread a whole new category of “Super Soldiers” who are able to do something called “Ghost” which allows them to move so fast that the Aliens can’t see them. All of this jumbled set up is all well and good, but ultimately it has very little to do with the actual movie.
After the ship crashes on earth we get an hour of Jaden wondering alone in the wilderness of a hostile post-apocalyptic Earth. He’s on a quest to retrieve a beacon that can call in a rescue team. The mutated animals look very bland and boring. I have to say; I’m getting a little tired of dystopian future stories. I want a story with sunshine and puppies.
M. Night Shyamalan’s directing comes across as fairly lazy. He doesn’t add any zip to any of his shots. The CGI is fine for what it is, but we don’t get enough time or any explanation for the new planet that humans now inhabit. The movie spent a lot of time teetering on the verge of failure but both Smiths do enough to pull it back and make it fairly enjoyable.
Final Grade B-