Smith 2 Smith
Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith
I’m about to really bum you guys out, so I hope you can forgive me. After Earth is not a Will Smith movie.
Here’s a shortlist of things I learned about the future from After Earth:
1) In 1000 years, whales will have two blow holes.
2) Also, in 1000 years, climbing a volcano will seem like a good idea.
Not that astounding, I know, but no one’s walking into this theater to learn stuff. The bigger list I compiled from this movie is reasons to avoid it.
In short, After Earth is a big-budget sci-fi flick about a father and son (Will Smith and his clone, Jaden) who crash land on an abandoned earth and struggle to simultaneously survive and escape. You’ll get all the plot this movie has to offer after the first ten or twelve minutes, and the biggest shock comes at the beginning of the credits.
Now, let me start first with the young Jaden Smith. I’ve already gotten some flack about what I have to say towards this kid, so if you’re a fan, just skip ahead. This kid can’t act. I’m sorry, but it’s true – and if he was anyone else’s son, he’d be laughed out of the audition office. But the worse truth here is that he’ll never learn to act if Will Smith doesn’t stop developing movies with the sole purpose of getting his son roles
You may be thinking right now about the other feel-good father-and-son movie the two starred in, Pursuit of Happyness. There are two very logical reasons their performances together worked in that movie but not here in After Earth. The first is that Jaden was still young and cute in that way only little kids can be. Well, he’s grown up now and insists on keeping that stupid peachfuzz pre-teen mustache, so he isn’t cute anymore, and his attempts to coast through a film with no attention to skill or craft are painfully obvious now.
The second reason is that the father-son relationship was important in Pursuit of Happyness – more important than it is here, now. In their earlier film, the director would have been able to say “he’s your dad, kid, just do what you normally do with him,” but considering the screen time in After Earth is dominated solely by Jaden, that’s impossible to do here.
And if it makes you feel better, Will Smith isn’t that great in this movie, either.
If you folks are anything like me, you’re big fans of Men in Black, and would ergo trust Will Smith in any number of science fiction scenarios. Sadly, Will Smith wastes whatever referential capital and talent he has by sitting in a room during this entire movie, sometimes nodding, sometimes sleeping. Both father and son try strapping on ridiculous accents which fade in and out of their voices as the movie progresses, lending little to their collaborative performances. Both Smiths seem vacant and unimpressed during the course of the film, and it’s hard to look away from that when we sit down to talk about this movie later.
A lot of comparisons have been made between this film and this year’s Oblivion starring Tom Cruise, and I don’t think that’s fair. For starters, Oblivion was a reasonably successful and effective action flick with beautiful imagery and a cool soundtrack. After Earth is a shameless cash grab and yet another attempt on behalf of a father to win his son some acceptance, and I have a feeling it’s going to fail on both of those levels.
I can’t even lean back and say that the visuals in this film were spectacular on a level remotely close to Oblivion, but that’s not true: the scenery and imagery we see here aren’t special. There’s absolutely nothing we haven’t seen before. Even the costume designs look like those cheap one-piece Halloween suits you find in drug stores and the discount aisle of Walmart. To put it bluntly: nothing here is convincing.
The plot of this story is shaky at best. It slumps forward at snail-speed with close to nothing to keep us interested except to see Jaden Smith flounder as he tries to dominate a screen all on his own. The movie all but begs the audiences, as fans of science fiction, to appreciate this movie on the only basis that it’s apparently a science fiction movie.
Now, here’s the real shocker of this film. SPOILER ALERT: If you want to wait until the beginning of the credits for this twist, stop reading here.
Now, be honest, how many of you knew this movie was directed by M. Night Shyamalan? Unlike seemingly everyone else on the planet, I don’t have any beef with Shyamalan or his body of work. I still think Sixth Sense is one of the best movies ever made, and Unbreakable is one of my all-time favorite superhero movies. I even have great appreciation for two of his other films, widely considered to be train wrecks: The Village and The Lady and the Water.
I think, a lot like Michael Bay, Shyamalan has been given a bad rap because he’s an easy target, the punch line of any joke about him being “what a twist!” But, honestly, guys, the twist in Signs wasn’t that the aliens were killed by water, but rather the Hitchcockian MacGuffin that the movie wasn’t actually about the aliens, but rather about the faith of Mel Gibson’s character.
Still, Shyamalan has been struggling to distance himself from his reputation by lessening his role in the production in movies as we saw in 2010’s Devil, in which he took a backseat as storywriter and producer and passing on the director’s chair to see if it was his directorial style or his stories that were causing all the problems. Another tactic he’s trying out is taking on properties he didn’t create, apparent with The Last Airbender and, now, After Earth.
After seeing his name on the director line, some of the sillier aspects of the movie suddenly made sense: a friendly animal and misplaced flashback sequences. However, this movie had little-to-none of the charm or attention to visual detail or story pacing characteristic in his movies, so I’m sad to say this film is going to wallow as another blemish on Shyamalan’s critically panned repertoire instead of a step forward.