Susan Granger’s review of “After Earth” (Columbia/Sony)
Nepotism has always been part of the Hollywood firmament, but it’s sunk to a new low with
Will Smith’s vanity vehicle for his 14 year-old son Jaden, who appeared with him in “The Pursuit of Happyness” and starred in a remake of “The Karate Kid.”
Beginning on a planet called Nova Prime, it’s a survival adventure, featuring a confused, fearful cadet, Kitai (Jaden), who accompanies his heroic United Ranger Commander father, Cypher Raige (Will), on a spaceship mission that crashes on post-apocalyptic Earth, now a savage, primeval wilderness. Since Cypher is incapacitated with badly broken legs, it’s up to Kitai to make a dangerous, four-day trek to find and ignite an emergency beacon. Not only is the Earth’s atmosphere toxic but a ferocious creature called an Ursa which was onboard has escaped and is hunting Kitai, who is haunted by visions of a childhood incident in which an Ursa killed his older sister, Senshi (Zoe Kravitz). Since the Ursa species is blind, it senses its prey by the pheromones humans release when they’re afraid. Wounded warrior Cypher has mastered a fear-suppressing technique called “ghosting,” which his son must now learn.
Working with screenwriter Gary Whitta (“Book of Eli”), writer/director M. Night Shyamalan fails once again. It’s hard to believe that after his stunning “The Sixth Sense” debut in 1999, Shyamalan has floundered with one misfire after another: “Lady in the Water,” “The Happening,” “The Last Airbender.” Not only is this father/son relationship plot blandly predictable, it’s impersonal, devoid of emotion and filled with generic details that are plainly derivative of far better sci-fi.
Will Smith robotically plays the appropriately named Cypher with stern, scowling dispassion, while adolescent, charisma-devoid Jaden whines. And they both affect an odd, garbled mid-Atlantic accent that defies designation. Since the filmmakers purportedly wrote “1,000 years of backstory,” their input must have gone into the inevitable video game spinoff.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “After Earth” is barely a boring 1 – a travesty commendable only for its sweeping cinematography, feral CG animals and menacing