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Movie Review: After Earth
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Adam Frazier   |  @   |  
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After Earth PosterAfter Earth
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Isabelle Fuhrman, Sophie Okonedo, Zoë Kravitz
Columbia Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 100 Minutes
Release Date: May 31, 2013

In the future, humanity is forced to abandon Earth after a series of cataclysmic events. Human civilization is re-established on Nova Prime, a habitable exoplanet beyond our Solar System.

One thousand years later, the United Ranger Corps is at war with the Skrel, an aggressive alien species. Led by the fearless General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), the Ranger Corps fight the Skrel’s ultimate weapon: the Ursa. Bred for warfare, the Ursa are genetically engineered for one purpose: to hunt and kill humans.

Cypher and his rebellious son Kitai (Jaden Smith) are transporting an imprisoned Ursa when their spacecraft is damaged by an asteroid storm. The ship crash-lands on post-apocalyptic Earth, freeing the deadly alien beast. With his father severely injured, Kitai must retrieve an emergency beacon by embarking on a perilous trek across uncharted terrain to signal for help.

Co-written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Last Airbender), After Earth is a father-son story dressed up in the trappings of science fiction. With a story by Will Smith and a screenplay penned by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli), After Earth is a slapped together hodgepodge of sci-fi tropes that is as tedious as it is generic.

Will Smith is uncharacteristically detached and emotionless as the stern father figure. His performance is stiff, like he just attended a Hayden Christensen master class on how to act like an inanimate object. Why such a naturally charismatic actor would want to play a dull, monotonous character named Cypher Raige is beyond me, especially one with a bizarre accent that makes him sound like a malfunctioning android.

After Earth: Will and Jaden Smith

As for Jaden Smith, he spends most of the film on his own, interacting with computer-generated environments and creatures while his father guides him via comlink. Let’s be honest here, Jaden Smith isn’t an actor – he’s the son of a famous person – and the only reason After Earth exists is because his dad produced it as a vehicle to boost his son’s star power. If Jaden decides he wants to be an actor he’ll have every resource made available to him, but for now it just feels like he’s doing it to please his beyond successful father.

And then there’s M. Night Shyamalan, a filmmaker who’s been on a cinematic slump for the better part of a decade. Since 2004’s The Village, Shyamalan has been on a steady decline with films like Lady in the Water, The Happening, and The Last Airbender.

The downward spiral continues with After Earth, a poorly-written film with static visuals and unconvincing performances. The only value in watching this film is that it makes mediocre movies like Oblivion look like crowning achievements in cinema.

At this point, I’d rather see a Paul W.S. Anderson film or – dare I say it – a Stephen Sommers movie before watching anything associated with M. Night Shyamalan. On the other hand, I can’t wait to listen to a RiffTrax commentary or a future episode of How Did This Get Made? that picks apart this disasterpiece in hilarious detail.

There is something to be said for the film’s admirable attempt at being a simple, straightforward sci-fi family adventure for young boys to watch with their fathers. The problem is the movie takes itself too seriously, draining all the fun and excitement – and emotion – from the narrative.

After Earth is a somber, lifeless affair occupied by mannequins and pixels and not much else; a SyFy Original knock-off that barely passes for entertainment.

Trailer:

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