We are accustomed to father and son duos in Hollywood. Kirk and Michael Douglas, Martin and Charlie Sheen, and Lloyd and Jeff Bridges. The newest duo to reign in Hollywood are the Smiths. Will and Jaden have shared screen time before in The Pursuit of Happiness and Father Smith produced son Jaden in The Karate Kid remake. This week Will takes a supporting role opposite of Jaden’s lead in M. Knight Shyamalan’s After Earth.
Once again the Apocalypse is present at the movies in After Earth as humans are forced to leave Earth which has been deemed uninhabitable. Mankind lives on a human settlement on a distant planet and are protected by group of peacemakers know as the Ranger Corps, which Cypher (Will Smith) is a part of. Not only is Cypher in the Rangers, but he’s the baddest and best of the bunch. This leaves insurmountable expectations for his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) to live up to, in his quest to join the Rangers Corps. While on a routine space transport, the Rangers Corps ship runs into trouble and the father/son duo get stranded on an abandoned planet. A deserted planet named Earth.
M. Knight Shyamalan’s After Earth may seem like a Swiss Family Robinson rip off and you would be partly right. We’ve seen shipwrecked families before, but none on Earth with zero humans. Shyamalan creates a suspenseful world with creatures that have evolved into skillful hunters. The idea of a prehistoric Earth in the future is a novel idea, but you need to have the animals inhabiting the landscape look believable. Unfortunately, the effects don’t give the beasts the justice they deserve and all the suspense is ruined. The effects are definitely a problem with the quality of After Earth, but the glaring issue is the acting.
If we are going to praise young performers like Anna Paquin, Jodie Foster and Haley Joel Osment, we should be able to criticize them as well. I know Jaden Smith is just a kid, but his performance in After Earth is down right bad. Will Smith wants to make his son a star and believe me he has the resources to do it. The problem is Jaden just doesn’t have the charisma in front of the camera that made his father a leading man. Jaden’s acting is stiff and his character comes across as a toddler with emotional issues. Jaden’s lack of experience is clear when he is forced to put the weight of After Earth on his small shoulders while his dad takes on the supporting role. Jaden buckles underneath the pressure of carrying the film by himself. Father Smith’s role as Cypher couldn’t save After Earth either. Truth is, Smith’s Ranger without fear or any emotional depth seems like a wasted role for him. Worse yet, something was up with the weird accents that the Smiths’ were trying to pull off? Maybe they realized the accents weren’t working because they seem to lose the dialect half way through the movie.
All this bad acting from the Smiths, combined with Shyamalan’s inability to get more out of his actors makes After Earth a huge disappointment. I enjoyed Will Smith’s last venture into the apocalypse in I Am Legend, but this time around the emotional connect is absent. Jaden’s Kitai is more of a fearful crybaby than a hero. He better hope his father continues to be the casting director for his future projects. In the end, After Earth comes across as nothing more than sappy Sci-Fi that looks more “Made for TV” movie than the summer blockbusters we are accustomed to from Will Smith. There was potential for a great film in After Earth, but poor acting ruins those chances. Overall I give After Earth 1 1/2 out of 4 potatoes.
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