Shyamalan's 'After Earth' offers little substance

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Entertainment,Movies,Kelly Jane Torrance

M. Night Shyamalan takes a dim view of humanity, it seems. "I've heard stories of Earth," says a character in his latest film, the sci-fi thriller "After Earth." "A paradise -- until we destroyed it."

Yet he offers a strangely optimistic view of the future. A global military operation successfully evacuates our planet, humanity creates an orderly new society on another planet, and speaking standards, bucking a centuries-long trend, improve. Everyone in "After Earth" talks in a carefully delineated, almost staccato fashion. It's unfortunate because, without anything of interest to say, the two stars of this film come off almost amateurish.

Which is strange, given that one of them is one of the planet's biggest movie stars and the other is his gifted son.

Other than those oddities, "After Earth" is an entirely predictable film. Some might sigh with relief on hearing that this film doesn't contain the trademark Shyamalan twist ending. But I would have welcomed anything out of the ordinary here, even if it meant that the characters had really been living on Earth all along. (Cue "The Village" music.) This is a science-fiction flick with no interesting vision of the future and a thriller in which every step is obvious long before it's taken.

On screen
'After Earth'
» Rating 1.5 out of 4 stars
» Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith
» Director: M. Night Shyamalan
» Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images
» Running time: 100 minutes

Will Smith is Cypher, an immensely successful general ready for retirement, and Jaden Smith is Kitai, his son. Kitai works hard to please his father, but he hasn't yet managed to graduate to "ranger," and the start of his military career. But then, his father isn't around to give him tips -- he's been gone years on training and other missions around the solar system.

He's off to do one last training gig before announcing his retirement, and his wife (Sophie Okonedo) persuades him to take Kitai along, so the two can "make some good memories together." Instead, as anyone who has seen the trailer knows, the two will be forced to separate to survive, as a crash landing puts Cypher close to death and the beacon needed to call help 100 kilometers away. (Yes, the future is metric.)

Kitai keeps in contact with his father as he ventures out into a cruel Earth in which every species, Cypher says, has evolved specifically to kill humans. (Odd, given that humans haven't lived on the planet in a millennium.) The two will have to learn to communicate if they want to survive -- and love each other if they want to really live.

Yes, the plot is just that simple and sentimental. The Smiths were put to better use playing father and son in "The Pursuit of Happyness." Though Jaden can get the same determined look on his face as his father, neither is given much to work with here to shine.

Shyamalan's last film, "The Last Airbender," was a critical disaster, though it made its production budget back thanks to its non-U.S. box office take. "After Earth" might signal a new future, in which the wunderkind filmmaker can't find financing any longer.

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Kelly Jane Torrance

Washington Examiner Movie Critic
The Washington Examiner