In the new sci-fi movie "After Earth," the real-life father-son duo of Will and Jaden Smith play the fictional father-son duo of Cypher and Kitai Raige, two space-faring humans whose ship crashes on a perilous, long-abandoned Earth about 1,000 years in the future. Cypher suffers two broken legs, while Kitai comes out in one piece and embarks on a journey to save them.
But when it comes to reviews of "After Earth," neither the elder Smith (who is also a producer on the film) nor Jaden -- nor director M. Night Shyamalan -- has emerged unscathed. The film has met with overwhelmingly poor reviews.
The Times' Betsy Sharkey said the screenplay, by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta, "has no nuance, none. And when Shyamalan moves into the director's chair, the script problems are magnified." Among those problems are a lack of subtlety, a surfeit of flashbacks and "dull opening narration." To make matters worse, the special effects are "one generation beyond tinfoil."
Regarding the two leads, Sharkey wrote, Will "Smith has never seemed stiffer," and Jaden "is trying so hard that the teenager's engaging on-screen presence, the one that made 'The Karate Kid' such a kick, mostly disappears." Sharkey's coup de grace: "If you're still wondering whether 'After Earth' is a disaster, the question is not if, but how big?"
Manohla Dargis of the New York Times gave a similar assessment. "The story kicks in slowly, beat by predictable beat," she wrote, adding, "For the most part it is an uninteresting slog alleviated only by the occasional unintended laugh and moments of visual beauty." Will Smith, she said, gives "a calamitously one-note, unpersuasive performance that’s a match to that of Jaden, a pretty teenager with jumpy eyebrows whose character remains an insufferable brat."
NPR's Mark Jenkins said, "'After Earth' doesn't play to the strengths of any of its major participants." Smith's character is "devoid of the bantering wit and easygoing demeanor of his trademark roles," Shyamalan "struggles with a surprise-free plot and a trial-by-fire moral so earnest it suggests a circa-1944 World War II flick," and Jaden, "in the movie's tissue-thin principal role, is called on to act. He'll start losing viewers with his wooden opening narration."
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that "After Earth" finds Shyamalan "branching out, coming up with new ways to make bad movies. His plan must be to exhaust all possibilities so as to eventually come full circle and make a good one by accident." LaSalle summed up the rest of the film as "a character we don't care about [Jaden's], played by an actor of no inherent screen presence, fighting off computer-generated monsters."
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr said, "It’s very sweet that Will Smith, who wrote the original story and served as co-producer (along with wife Jada Pinkett Smith), has given his son a movie of his own to prove his worth." Unfortunately, Jaden lacks the "acting chops and basic screen presence" required to carry a movie, and Smith himself gives "a humorless, charisma-free performance." (To round out the trifecta, Burr called the film "flaccidly directed.")
About the closest thing to a good review is Michael Phillips' in the Chicago Tribune, and it's not exactly glowing. He called the film "modestly entertaining" and added, "'After Earth' won't change your world, but it's attractive ... and Smith the Elder, lowering his voice to subterranean James Earl Jones levels, delivers a shrewd minimalist performance. His son may get there yet."
He may indeed, but probably not soon enough to save "After Earth."
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