June 6, 2013

'After Earth' falls flat


---- — “After Earth” is the kind of movie that gives sci-fi a bad name.

A bland example of misguided nepotism, the film is actually more of a father-son coming-of-age drama, dressed in futuristic trappings.

Unfortunately, “After Earth” doesn’t take advantage of any of its assets, giving viewers a tedious story that doesn’t even look particularly good.

Consider it yet another nail in the creative coffin of director and co-writer M. Night Shyamalan. There’s plenty of blame to go around, however.

Will Smith conceived of the story, and produced the film as a vehicle for his 14-year-old son, Jaden, who shows no ability — at least not yet — to carry an action-adventure movie.

“After Earth” is essentially a two-man story. It seems that 1,000 years in the future, humans have been forced to leave a broken Earth and colonize a new planet, only to face a race of deadly alien creatures who can literally smell fear.

Will Smith plays General Cypher Raige, hero of the human race, a stoic leader completely immune to fear. Jaden Smith is his son, an impulsive teen who has failed training for the elite Rangers fighting force.

As fate would have it, the father and son are the only survivors on a ship that crash-lands on abandoned Earth, and they will have to work on their personal issues to avoid certain death.

Those expecting a typical Will Smith vehicle — fun, wisecracking and action-packed — will be sorely disappointed. “After Earth” is virtually humorless (the only thing funny is Smith’s odd accent), and what’s the opposite of action-packed … action-unpacked?

The elder Smith’s character is almost completely charisma-free, and spends most of the movie incapacitated with an injury. That leaves Jaden Smith’s Kitai to do all the heavy lifting, in this case covering 100 kilometers of treacherous terrain before his oxygen runs out.

Kitai, though, is plenty whiny and kind of annoying, and the obstacles he faces aren’t all that menacing. Smith wasn’t bad in the “Karate Kid” remake, but he’s mediocre here, not believable at all as an action star.

Speaking of action, why is it that 1,000 years in the future, mankind can travel great distances in space almost instantly, but apparently no one has invented a projectile weapon? There are times in “After Earth” when a gun or a phaser or even a crossbow would come in handy.

“After Earth” rehashes the familiar dynamic of the insensitive father and the son desperately trying to please him. It falls flat though, even splashed across an alien landscape. The film manages to be pretentious and not very smart at the same time.

Do yourself a favor and wait until Will Smith decides to be fun again.

Rental Recommendation: If you want to watch Will Smith work with his son, try the heart-warming “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Grade: A.

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'After Earth'

Grade: C-

Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo

Rated: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images)

Running time: 100 minutes