The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

After Earth

What exactly happened to M. Night Shyamalan somewhere around 2003? The director had just made Signs, an oddly good sci-fi flick, but followed it up with The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening and The Last Airbender. One bad movie on top of each other. Well, it's gotta turn around at some point, right? How about 2013's After Earth?!? Is this the one?!? Nope.

Sometime in the future, Earth has been destroyed, making the planet virtually inhabitable and forcing its human survivors to leave it behind, settling on a new planet, Nova Prime. The planet has come under attack, forcing the United Ranger Corps, headed by General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), to defend Nova Prime against the aliens' main weapon, the Ursas, immense, blind creatures that literally smell "fear." His son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), wants nothing more than to follow in his legendary father's footsteps, trying to become a Ranger himself as a cadet at Ranger School. His relationship with his father is far from close though, Kitai's mother convincing Cypher to take his son along on his last mission. They're in for a ride though, the ship flying into an asteroid shower and crashing on a remote planet. There are no survivors other than Cypher and Kitai (of course, who would have figured?!?), leaving the father-son duo to work together to survive. The catch? They're on a horrifically transformed planet Earth that has evolved in the thousand years since humans left.

In spite of getting almost universally panned by critics, 'Earth' still managed to make almost $60 million in the U.S., doing pretty well internationally too. Not a bad total until you consider it cost $130 million to make. Just because critics and reviewers don't like a movie doesn't automatically make a movie bad....but in this case, they were right. This movie is really, truly bad, one of the worst movies I've seen this year. Originally an idea from Will Smith, 'Earth' struggles to find any footing and never manages to find any. The script is bad, the acting worse, and the developing story turns into a 1970s after school special. With a premise somewhat similar to this year's Oblivion (scorched Earth, what's left?), I thought it could be mildly entertaining, but it wasn't. It was bad, right from the start too.

I feel bad criticizing a young actor, but here we sit just the same. This is my first introduction to Jaden Smith, and it isn't a particularly good one. Some of my issues can obviously be chalked up to the script that does no one any favors, but it's more than that. This is one whiny teenager who's dripping with teen angst. He wants to be like his father, to show him he belongs, but he's also tortured by guilt having seen his sister (Zoe Kravitz) die in an Ursas attack. Good Lord, just pick one cliched stereotype and stick with it. You don't have to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. I couldn't shake the feeling that this movie was an excuse by Will Smith to get his son a starring role, and that's never a good thing. The gimmick of the real-life father son working together is quickly washed away thanks to the script.

So how about Will Smith? This has to be one of his worst performances. Playing Cypher, he's supposed to be this ultra-cool, no-nonsense, all business legend who discovered how to beat the Ursas. The plan? Literally show no fear and the creatures can't sense you. Translated....that means show no real emotion. Smith took that message to heart, not showing anything other than a comatose face that looks like he may or may not be sleepwalking. It's unreal how wooden this performance is. We're talking one step below a cardboard box. The kinda cool feature that Cypher can see everything Kitai sees through some advanced technology is wasted because Will Smith literally shows no emotion the entire movie. There are moments he seems concerned whether his son makes it or not (I suppose, it's hard to read), but even a legendary hero who has NO FEAR would seemingly be slightly, remotely concerned.

The script in general is bad, from a rushed, wasted introduction that lays everything out to the familiar plot holes late. With such a cool background to tap for potential, the prologue doesn't specify enough, throwing a whole lot of tidbits out there and hoping some of them stick. Once Cypher and Kitai's ship goes down on Earth, I figured things might pick up, but it doesn't. Kitai battles baboons, immense birds, tiger-lions, just one calamity on top of another. At one point, his lifesuit turns colors -- adjusting to the situation and its needs -- and Kitai communicates with Cypher "My suit is changing colors....I think I like it!" If I'm sprinting from baboons in a forest, that's the least of my concerns. Mostly, it came across as painful to watch as Kitai finally voices all his problems he has with his father.

I've wasted too much time and written too many words on this one. It ain't good, and there's little to nothing to recommend here. Pass in a big way.

After Earth (2013): */****

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