Humourless sci-fi yawn
HE flashing ‘‘may cause extreme drowsiness’’ warning on a pain killer Will Smith takes after breaking both his legs in his new movie, After Earth, is a caution that applies equally to the film.
After Earth is basically Smith and his real-life son, Jaden, talking their audience to death for 90 minutes before the credits roll. Thank heavens Smith’s longtime enablers at Sony encouraged him to whittle this humourless sci-fi epic down from a much longer movie.
The back story in the opening narration – Earth’s evacuation following a vague environmental catastrophe – is boiled down to a couple of sentences.
A thousand years later, Smith is Cypher, a general in the United Ranger Corps, the military arm of the former Earthlings who have settled on a distant planet and produced dull descendants.
On the verge of retirement, Cypher decides to take his 14-year-old son, Kitai, along on his last mission. The two have a frosty relationship, we’re told, because Kitai blames his frequently absent father for his sister’s death.
A meteor shower forces their spacecraft to crash land on Earth, where Cypher and son are the only survivors in a hostile environment.
‘‘Do exactly as I tell you and we will survive!’’ the disabled Cypher barks at Kitai in an order that would probably sound better delivered as a rap lyric.
Most of the film consists of Kitai travelling kilometres on foot to recover a rescue beacon, and then, even less interestingly, trying to find the intergalactic equal of a phone signal. There are two action sequences – a brief pursuit by what look like deranged orangutans and a climactic battle with a badly executed special effect supposed to represent a deadly extraterrestrial.
Eleven years and several progressively more dreadful movies after Signs, director M. Night Shyamalan would be lucky to get a gig directing traffic. His work on this reported $150 million vanity project manages to generate no suspense or excitement. Only yawns.
Will Smith, who co-produced with assorted family members, also contributed the vaguely L. Ron Hubbard-ish story, for what is laughably described in the press notes as a ‘‘franchise’’. The erstwhile box-office king, who appears to be suffering from delusions of grandeur in recent years, really should stick to his day job.
Separating father and son for most of the film limits the dramatic possibilities. What’s more, while Jaden Smith pulled off the remake of The Karate Kid, he’s not quite a good enough actor (or sufficiently charismatic) to hold the screen by himself in scene after scene.
We’re left to ponder how Earth remains so green and leafy when the temperatures drop below freezing every night or why all that plant life can’t supply enough oxygen for Kitai’s imperiled supply of inhalers.
He is able to receive Dad’s overbearing self-help lectures via a communication device which, like all the 31st-century technology on view here, is surprisingly more fragile than anything you’d find in stores today.
‘‘Fear is not real, it is a production of your imagination. Danger is very real but fear is a choice,’’ Cypher tells Kitai. And so is avoiding the crashing bore that is After Earth.
– LOU LUMENICK, The New York Post
After Earth opens on June 13, with advance screenings on Sunday.
Will Smith and Sophie Okonedo in a scene from After Earth