Friday, May 31, 2013

A Reel Review: AFTER EARTH

Fifteen or twenty years ago, the idea of M. Night Shyamalan directing Will Smith in a science fiction adventure would have been an exciting one; both men were able to churn out critical and box-office success seemingly at ease. A lot of things have changed since then, and here in 2013 the two finally team-up in AFTER EARTH.
A crash landing leaves teenager Kitai (Jaden Smith, son of Will) and his father Cypher (Will Smith, father of Jaden) stranded on Earth, 1,000 years after humanity has abandoned the planet. With Cypher injured, Kitai must take a dangerous journey to get help while evading dangerous animal species that now inhabit the wild planet, and an alien which escaped the crash.

AFTER EARTH sets itself up to be an intimate father-son story, as Kitai must face his issues with daddy and his own fears to save both their lives. Once the crash happens, great steps are taken to set the stage for what Kitai must go through, and it is there the movie immediately falls into a mundane and routine affair. As Cypher explains every single obstacle and adversary out in the wild, the audience can right away put together every single thing that will happen in the movie. It just comes one step short of having a road-map in your lap while viewing. It’s a goal-driven movie sprinkled with light character interaction which feels right at home in a video game, but shallow on the big screen.
The predictability is made worse by the absence of any sort of personal touch by director M. Night Shyamalan. M. Night brings nothing of worth to the film; his characters are boring, the action sequences are thrill-less, and the attempted scares fall flat. There is no spirit or energy to be found, and worse, no heartbeat for a father-son drama. The script takes too much advantage of convenient plot devices and points (technology is used as a crutch for the filmmakers to move things along and get out of tight spots), and also takes massive leaps in its own logic. While some of the visuals of the environment are wonderfully realized, the CGI creatures are un-convincing, and the score is as generic as elevator music.

M. Night deserves some sort of award for sucking all of the charisma and fun out of Will Smith. Smith blurts out his lines with less emotion than an infernal talking Apple device, and he never once is interesting or lovable as a father figure. It doesn’t help that the man spends 90% of the movie stuck in a chair, but even with such a limitation M. Night and Smith should have been able to generate some sort of spark. Jaden Smith fares no better and is as wooden as his father, and his big, mid-film emotional moment is nothing short of laughable. The best acting in the film surprisingly goes to Zoe Kravitz, who appears here and there in scattered, albeit useless flashbacks.
The finale arrives the same way every other event in the film does; with a predictable and ineffective thud. Everything that leads up to the lame attempt at family drama for an emotional punch at the end is too light and weak to be of any use. It seems that M. Night and Will Smith did not bring any of themselves into this collaboration, and one can only hope that they never decide to do it again. Once is certainly enough.


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