Monday, June 3, 2013

Movie Review: After Earth

After Earth
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan.
Written by: Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan, story by Will Smith.
Starring: Jaden Smith (Kitai Raige), Will Smith (Cypher Raige), Sophie Okonedo (Faia Raige), Zoƫ Kravitz (Senshi Raige).

After Year is the first big movie of blockbuster season that is downright awful. I may have been mildly disappointed in Iron Man 3 and a little more than mildly disappointed in The Great Gatsby, but both films were at least entertaining to a certain degree. Although After Earth is significantly shorter than any of the other big movies of the last month, it feels a lot longer. The movie is deadly slow, ponderous, boring and at times downright goofy. It is a failure for all involved.

The movie stars Will Smith and his son Jaden as father and son (naturally). It is set 1,000 years after humanity had to evacuate Earth because their actions made it in uninhabitable for humans. Since then, they have found a new home, but apparently have been engaged in the longest war ever against the Ursa’s – an alien creature, that is pretty much another clone from the Alien franchise. These aliens are different however – they cannot see or hear – and track down humans by smelling their fear. That’s right – their fear.

Smith is Cypher Raige – a decorated General of the Rangers – the human Army who is tasked with protecting the rest of us and killing the Ursa’s. Jaden is Kitai Raige, his teenage son, still reeling from his failure as a child as he hid from the Ursa’s and watched one of them kill his big sister, Senshi. Cypher has never forgiven him for that (although, he was a child, and did what his sister told him to, and what the hell was he going to do?). Cypher, of course, is about to retire. He has one last training mission to go to – and decides to take Kitai along with him. Kitai has just failed to be promoted to Ranger, but his mother Faia (Sophie Okonedo) convinces Cypher the trip will be a chance to get to know his son.

If you’ve seen the previews – then you’ve seen the rest. A rocket crash kills everyone but Kitai and Cypher – although it leaves Cypher with two broken legs – unable to move from the downed ship. It has also destroyed their homing beacon, so no one will be able to find them. But there is another one – in the tail of the ship that crashed 100 KM away. Kitai needs to go and retrieve it or they’re both dead. Oh, and they crashed on earth, where now every animal can kill you and whose temperature fluctuates wildly (you would think that would kill the animals – but I guess not – perhaps Darwin could explain why if he was around).

The film has been directed by M. Night Shyamalan, once one of the most promising directors working, and now looking at his third horrible movie in a row (the other two being The Happening and The Last Airbender – others would say fifth in a row, but while I hated The Village, I did not hate Lady in the Water as many did). Here, although he co-wrote the screenplay, it is based on a story by Will Smith himself – who obviously hoped this would be a star making vehicle for his son Jaden. Jaden has shown he can be a pretty good young actor in films like The Pursuit of Happyness and The Karate Kid, but here he is thrown into the deep end, and simply does not have the charisma or acting chops to carry this film. I’m not going to be too hard on him though, since most child actors couldn’t do what is expected of Jaden Smith here. For much of the movie, he is by himself, in the middle of an extremely fake CGI world, dodging killer monkeys and a giant bird, and has no one to play off of. Carrying a movie without a screen partner is an incredibly difficult thing to do – most actors cannot do it, and we cannot really expect Smith to do it here. True, for most of the movie, he has his father in his ear telling him what to do – but it’s not the same thing as having a true scene partner. For his part, Smith Sr. gives his dullest performance I can imagine. I’ve never thought Smith was a terrific actor, but he’s always been a terrific movie star – using his undeniable charm and likability to full advantage (and it should be said, he did pretty much carry a movie by himself – I Am Legend. Here, he plays his character like it was written – an almost emotionless character, who doesn’t know, or even seem to want to know, his son. His is emotionless is many ways – making his name Cypher a far too on the nose description of his character – the same could be said for Smith Jr.’s name Kitai which is Japanese for Faith.

There are a few moments in After Earth where I sensed the talented Shyamalan behind the camera – a few subtle moments and camera moves that brought to mind his best work. But for the most part, this is another deadly dull movie for him. He is clearly a “director for hire” here, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but he seems to have lost most of his eye behind the camera. He seems disinterested. His screenplay is still full of the forced sentimentality and “profound” moments that are in reality quite shallow which has marred much of his work.

I could forgive After Earth many of its flaws if it weren’t for the biggest one – the film is deadly dull. It drags on from one scene to the next, and even in the action moments, fails to get the pulse of the audience racing. The movie just sits there on the screen. And I just sat there in the audience waiting for it to be over.

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