In the gospel according to Will Smith, 1,000 years in the future will find the human race living on the remote planet Nova Prime and speaking in an overly precise and uniform Southern accent. There, they depend on elite Rangers to protect them from blind, fear-smelling monsters called Ursa, who want the world for themselves. Such is the vision of After Earth, an awkward, near joyless sci-fi adventure that thinks it’s more exhilarating, heartwarming, and humorous than it actually is. A vehicle for his son Jaden to establish himself as a legitimate movie star (speaking of fiction…), Papa Smith in turn steps aside with a stunningly charisma-free performance that, along with the film’s clumsy storytelling, keeps its potential thrills frustratingly in check.
For a film that could use more surprises, After Earth’s creators make the questionable decision of opening with a pair of major reveals before jumping back a few days to set the story’s scene. From there, the film leans on rough voiceover narration from young Kitai Raige (Jaden) to tediously explain how bipeds got to their current situation and offers glimpses at a cold society that might have been better off extinct.
En route to a training mission with his elite Ranger father Cypher (Big Willie Style himself), a space storm downs their ship on post-apocalyptic Earth, where a broken-legged Cypher holes up in the cockpit like a poor man’s Jimmy Stewart from Rear Window. On this strange former home, a fertile environment seemingly ripe for excitement is promptly negated by the Family Smith and their unidentifiable director/co-writer M. Night Shyamalan, all of whom have apparently forgotten how to craft an engaging film.
Dryly stating facts to Katai, who’s forced to act the hero and locate a rescue beacon in the ship’s far off tail, Cypher is an emotionless cyborg of a man. While his lack of fear and ability to be invisible (or “ghost”) around Ursa is an asset on the battle field, the resulting woodenness makes for terrible viewing. His offspring, however, is as bad if not worse. Out in a wild, dangerous world that yields a few neat shots of large buffalo herds and flocks of birds roaming freely in their respective milieus, Katai’s main defense mechanism involves shouting “Leave me alone!” at his various animal predators. The chief of these is an Ursa who escaped when the ship crashed, yet as with the rest of this mystery-free film, both their collision course and the outcome are plotted with an inevitability that kills any hope for entertainment.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images.
After Earth is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.