When considering the bleak futuristic vision of post-apocalyptic movies such as After Earth, life doesn’t feel quite so bad right here in the 21st century.
Then again, the future wouldn’t contain cinematic nonsense like this latest science-fiction misfire from fledgling director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense), which also happens to be another nepotistic vanity project for the father-son duo of Will and Jaden Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness).
The film contains an imaginative sci-fi vision with some impressive special effects, but the derivative screenplay makes it an exercise in style over substance.
It takes place more than 1,000 years into the future, when a no-nonsense general named Cypher (Will Smith) and his teenage son Kitai (Jaden Smith) are the only survivors when a spacecraft crashes into a desolate and dangerous Earth on a mission from their home planet.
With Cypher injured in the crash, he sends the aspiring soldier Kitai on a perilous mission to recover a beacon from the wreckage of the spacecraft. Along the way, he must contend not only with his own fear, but an escaped monster that also happens to be the source of a past family tragedy.
Once again, Shyamalan proves his talent lies more in directing than screenwriting, but at least the audience doesn’t have to endure another one of his trademark gimmicky twist endings.
Instead, Shyamalan and co-writer Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli) developed the script from a story credited to Will Smith.
After Earth contains some scattered moments of excitement, such as the thrilling spaceship crash sequence and a handful of harrowing creature encounters for Kitai. Yet for the majority of the running time, it’s a two-character piece in which one of the characters is sick and immobile.
So the film resorts to having Cypher dispense metaphysical mumbo-jumbo (very slowly, and with a strange accent) in an effort to be high-minded and intellectual, when in fact the result is muddled and pretentious.
At its core, the movie is a formulaic coming-of-age story about a precocious son trying to prove his worth to his overbearing absentee father, as well as a predictable tale of wilderness survival against the odds.
Kids might relate to the resourceful protagonist and enjoy his quest on the same level that they would a high-tech video game. They’re also the viewers least likely to realize that the plot is just as robotic as the characters.
Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.