The first half hour of M. Night Shyamalan’s “After Earth” is so tedious that I thought the Scientologists had something to do with it. Was this, at long last, the newest film from the team that gave us John Travolta’s “Battleship Earth,” which, so help me, wasn’t quite as terrible as its legend makes out? Compared with the first 30 minutes of “After Earth,” it was downright smashing.
Things do improve, I must say. It’s a movie for kids, but only to people who don’t really like kids.
What you’re seeing here is the always dreadable Shyamalan writing and directing a father/son outer space rescue movie in which Will Smith and his 15-year-old son Jaden play the father and son. The story is Will’s own, and if you think I’m going to get in the way of another father/son bonding experience on a movie set (see “The Pursuit of Happyness”), forget it.
I still like Will Smith and always will, even when he’s personally responsible for dreck like this. You can’t blame a guy for being sick to death of being charming and lovable in every movie.
In this one, we’re in the far future when earthlings, as you no doubt guessed, have migrated elsewhere because we current humans have polluted the planet to death. In this future Earth 1,000 years from now, the only inhabitants are massive animals, especially mega-reptiles who live for the taste of human blood.
Will and Jaden Smith play a long-separated father and son. Dad has just come home after being a general of the rangers. He’s been protecting the universe a long way from home and hearth. Those same rangers won’t let the kid become one of them yet because for all his growing skills – and ability to pass tests – he’s just full of fear.
And his Dad is one of those renowned for being quite literally fearless – so much so that attackers can’t even smell fear on him, like ordinary mortals. Evading the sharp noses of predators is known as “ghosting.”
It’s very simple really, as Dad explains the secret. “Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.” It’s easy for him to say. He’s a fearless Dad. But a fearful teen who, it turns out, witnessed a terrible family event, isn’t so easy to convince.
When father and son decide to do a little bonding on Dad’s last excursion saving the universe before coming home to Mom for good, their ship crash lands on now-dangerous and festering Earth. Dad has two broken legs. (One seriously, he adds; a rather odd qualification if you ask me. Broken is broken.)
He can’t move. He needs the kid to fetch something from the ship’s tail, which fell at least three day’s journey away after the crash.
So it’s really a Lassie movie with Will Smith playing Timmy and his son Jaden playing Lassie, who has to fetch help from a long way away and come back to Dad through all sorts of evil critters determined to devour him.
The film isn’t a total loss. The CGI critters are good. So are a few of the landscapes. There are a couple of decent scares at the end and you’ll have to be made of Gummi bears not to root for father and son to bond, get home to Mom safely and stay out of trouble.
But none of the good stuff lasts very long. Mostly it’s just father/son palaver – some of it mystic communication – to enable a young son to get over his fear, grow the heck up in a hurry and save Dad from his immobility.
Any audience member who thinks it’s Will’s way of telling Jaden to get a career already and let Dad stay home with wife, Jada, and catch a few Zs on the couch is probably reading far too much into it.
The movie’s best life, believe me, will be on video where it seems to me, the fast-forward button will be everyone’s treasured friend.
Will Smith and Jaden Smith in M. Night Shyamalan’s sci-fi tale of a father and son whose bonding mission on a space flight turns into a life-and-death excursion. 100 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images.