Will Smith has been a persistent box office powerhouse for summertime movies since Independence Day. His charismatic charm and physical presence and acting talent enable him to power every genre from sci-fi to action to comedy to dramas to blockbuster status.
Unfortunately, however, After Earth is not a Will Smith movie. It is a Jaden Smith movie.
Jaden Smith's debut alongside his father in "Pursuit of Happyness" was adorable and promising. With his first real solo-staring vehicle (Karate Kid also starred Jackie Chan) After Earth, he is leaping too far ahead of himself. He is supposed to play a 17 year old super-star cadet who is on the verge of being welcomed into a special forces Ranger unit that fights genetically engineered monsters designed by aliens to kill humans. Jaden Smith is 14 years old. He could pass for 12. There is NO WAY he passes for elite special forces material. Casting him for this role is like casting Shirley Temple for Baywatch--it's just wrong on every level.
Will Smith spends the whole movie in a recliner chair, too wounded to aid in his son's quest. He can only issue orders via communication device on his son's suit. This highly trained cadet follows not a single order. Will Smith delivers the worst performance of his career--it's almost as though he lost a bet with his son and is appearing in the movie against his wishes and against his better judgment.
The new Star Trek suffered from a dumb script but was still fun due to some snappy dialogue and the iconic characters. After Earth is dumb AND boring. A few stupid plot points:
- It starts with an Al Gore-like warning that Earth was destroyed by man's smokestacks and features Tsunami footage.
- Earth, while "destroyed" is still covered with lush vegetation and wildlife.
- Earth deep freezes every night yet appears to be Hawaii by day due to the evolution of plants... over a mere 1000 years.
- Aliens create mutant monsters to hunt man, but fail to give them eyesight.
- Future man has spacecraft, but apparently lost the ability to make a gun to shoot these creatures-relying instead on the advanced technology of swords (hat tip to Star Wars I guess).
- A character's femoral artery was severed... for hours, yet he toughs it out.
Will Smith's career will recover--in fact I doubt it will suffer so much as a wound. If this film makes money it is because of his name. But this does seem to be a setback for Jaden Smith--even if it makes money overseas it will be from monsters not acting.
Zoe Kravitz is the only actor to emerge unscathed here. The few moments she's on the screen are the only seconds, aside from a couple special effects sequences, in which I didn't find myself wishing I'd attended a SIFF documentary on the art of collecting leaves instead.
Final note: The movie is directed by M. Knight Shyamalan, once thought to be the heir to Hitchcock. People will say that this turkey seals his fate as a has-been, but this movie is based on a Will Smith story, and its faults are primarily in the script not directing. I hope all involved move on to better things soon.