*1/2 (out of 5)
May 31, 2013
Jaden Smith as KITAI RAIGE
Will Smith as CYPHER RAIGE
Sophie Okonedo as FAIA RAIGE
Zoe Isabella Kravitz as SENSHI RAIGE
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Before I start tearing this movie a new Earth hole, I have a confession to make: I can’t stand Jaden Smith.
I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice kid, but his entire career feels like an overblown Christmas present from his father. Jaden Smith has earned nothing in Hollywood, with movie roles literally given to him for no other consideration besides his bloodline.
The kid’s not a terrible actor, but frankly, he’s not that great either. Just because you can cry on screen does not mean you’re a strong actor. And considering Will Smith is a one-in-a-million type of star, it’s no big surprise that his son doesn’t have nearly the same amount of charm as charisma on screen as he does.
Maybe if Jaden Smith would emancipate himself from his dad’s career management rather than just from his dad’s house, he could have a shot. Maybe in five or ten years, he can show up in some smaller production playing the villain. If he took a path similar to that of Kiefer Sutherland, in which he didn’t try to become a Mini Me version of his dad and just made a name for himself, this could be a positive end. However, having Jaden Smith forced down moviegoers throats as pubescent leading man material is not going to end well for anyone.
Is it fair for me to dump on a fourteen-year-old kid like this? In this context, it is. We’re not talking about people taking a hands-off approach to Chelsea Clinton or the Obama girls when they just happen to be the President’s daughters. Will Smith is using his clout to make a $130 million movie for his son to star in, and he’s throwing him to the wolves.
In this sense, “After Earth” is no better than Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video. It’s a bought-and-paid-for vanity piece for a spoiled teenager who probably doesn’t know any better. The only difference is that Rebecca Black’s family did theirs for a limited audience before it went viral. Will Smith is actually trying to make Jaden Smith a bona fide movie star.
“After Earth” comes off as exactly what you’d expect from the players involved, an in-kind payment due from Sony after Will Smith brought them more box office gold by doing another “Men in Black” movie last year. Sadly, it’s a story conceived by a non-writer movie star, featuring nepotism casting for the lead with an actor who hasn’t earned his stripes, directed by a guy who has become a joke in Hollywood.
But for all the bashing that M. Night Shyamalan is receiving from this film, I don’t necessarily blame him. He was a hired gun for this movie, and the trappings of “The Last Airbender” aren’t the same problems here. On the whole, “After Earth” actually looks decent, with some cool special effects and slick (if not ridiculous at time) set design.
However, the problem is the needlessly convoluted story. The general concept is simple: A father and son crash land on a hostile planet Earth 1000 years after humanity left. In order to survive, the son has to make a 100-kilometer trek to find an emergency beacon so they can call for help.
However, too much set-up in the story is a mess. Why did humanity leave earth 1000 years ago? Why were genetically-engineered creatures hunting humanity across the galaxy? Why were these creatures made to smell the pheromones we exude when we are afraid? Why were these creatures not given eyes once select soldiers learned to “ghost,” which is to suppress any fear and become invisible to them? Why do people eat with three-pronged chopsticks with a cheater rubber band around the end? Why do people all sleep in hammocks in the future? Why does everyone speak like a bad Peter Stormare impersonation?
Elements that could be cool in a better science fiction movie just seem out of place here. A lot of these questioned are given half-hearted answers in a dullard opening narration by Jaden Smith, but unfortunately it plays like a bad Syfy movie rather than a major motion picture.
But all of these questions are moot because the film hinges upon the journey of Jaden Smith’s character. He has to learn to “ghost” and remove all fear, leading the movie to a painfully misdirected message.
The tag line of “After Earth” reads: “Danger is real. Fear is a choice.”
But, it’s not. Fear is a very real thing. It’s a product of evolution that has kept many species alive for tens of thousands, if not millions of years. It’s what keeps humanity safe. The entire supposition of the movie is that a person is brave if he is without fear. And that is flat-out wrong.
The truth is that a person without fear is too stupid to recognize danger. If you’ve ever watched a dog dart into traffic while chasing a squirrel, this is apparent. That dog isn’t brave. That dog is just too stupid to recognize the danger in running across the road.
True bravery comes from how one handles his or her fear. True bravery happens when a person does something in spite of his or her fear. Fear is a real, undeniable human emotion, and this movie trivializes it into some poorly written tag line.
So this off-kilter message is shouldered by Jaden Smith, who is woefully out of his depth, and we’re left with a dud. “After Earth” isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen, but it has nothing in it that is memorable or comes close to being even mediocre. And the twist ending that M. Night Shyamalan is famous for turns out to be that it’s a terrible movie from beginning to end.
I hope you all liked “Men in Black III” last year, because we’re paying for it with this movie now.