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Travers: ‘After Earth’ is an Unholy Mess of Platitudes and Posturing

The Will Smith-starrer directed by Manoj Night Shyamalan makes 90 minutes drag on like a life sentence

Peter Travers Jun 07, 2013
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Jaden Smith in After Earth. Photo: Columbia Pictures

Jaden Smith in After Earth. Photo: Columbia Pictures

Will Smith, Jaden Smith

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

[easyreview cat1title = “After Earth” cat1rating = 1]

After Earth merits comparison with 2000’s Battlefield Earth, John Travolta’s godawful film tribute to the sci-fi novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Yes, it’s that bad. This time poor, ravaged Earth, uninhabitable by humans, is occupied by predatory birds, monkeys and tacky computer-generated aliens. So what are Will Smith, 44, and his son Jaden Smith, 14, doing there? Ask Big Willie, he dreamed up the story. What we see on screen, with a sodden script co-written by Gary Whitta and director M. Night Shyamalan (a galaxy away from the glory days of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs), is an unholy mess of platitudes and posturing that makes 90 minutes drag on like a life sentence. Daddy Smith plays Cypher, the militarist leader of Nova Prime, the planet where humans live after they destroyed nature’s balance 1000 years ago. Cypher is one stoic, thin-lipped dude. No wonder his son, Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith), can’t get close to him. Kitai can’t even cut it in the United Ranger Corps, where his father is considered a God. OK, he’s a general, but you take my point. What can bring father and son together? A disaster, of course. When a spaceship crash strands Cypher and Kita on Earth, the boy must become a man. Cue the clichés. Cypher breaks both his legs. This means he sits around staring at computer screens while sonny boy does the heavy lifting, running a 60-mile obstacle course to another part of the ship’s wreckage to recover a beacon that will save the day and both their lives. If you’re thinking this movie won’t be going where you think it’s going, snap out of it. So what we have here is a Will Smith, devoid of humor, charm and screen time, waiting in the car while his kid does the driving. Whaat? The young Smith has energy, but not the acting chops. And he’s no miracle worker. The burden of carrying this dull, lifeless movie is just too much. And it’s hell on an audience. It’s not a good sign when you sit there thinking ”“ Make. It. Stop.

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