‘After Earth’ Proves M. Night Shyamalan’s Checkmate With Mismatched Smith Family

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Average: 3.9 (12 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 1.5/5.0
Rating: 1.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Oscar accolades are a godsend, but so are they an affliction. They’re the ultimate vote of respect from your industry, but then you’ve got to keep being as genius as they thought you were. In M. Night Shyamalan’s case, it’s all gone downhill since his 1999 smash-hit “The Sixth Sense,” which was nominated for six of these portly golden statues. Now attaching his name to a movie does it more destruction than good.

After first trying to emulate Alfred Hitchock and failing to, Shyamalan shifted to attempting a blockbuster with 2010’s “The Last Airbender,” which won at the box office but failed miserably with critics. Back for redemption in 2013, he teamed up with the most mismatched kin you could imagine: the profitable Hollywood family comprised of Will, Jaden, Jada Pinkett and Caleeb Pinkett Smith.

Jaden Smith in After Earth
Jaden Smith in “After Earth”.
Image credit: Columbia Pictures

The result of Shyamalan trying to evidence he could rise to J.J. Abrams or Steven Spielberg blockbuster caliber is that he can’t and likely never will. “After Earth” is a wasteland riddled with cinematic trash the likes of which would take thousands of words to successfully dissect. But I’ll humor you nonetheless – while our critic, Brian Tallerico, already has in his 1-out-5 trashing.

From the 12 titles he’s written and mostly all directed (excluding “After Earth” because it just opened), I calculate that Shyamalan films have a cumulative global box-office gross of $2.5 billion on total production budgets of $665 million (according to Box Office Mojo data from 2010’s “Devil” back to 1992’s “Praying With Anger”).

Will Smith and Jaden Smith in After Earth
Will Smith (left) and Jaden Smith in “After Earth”.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

Only one Shyamalan film had a global gross less than its production budget (1998’s mega flop “Wide Awake”), and by the numbers, he’s a financial success over and over again. But numbers lie. In the hearts and minds of moviegoers and critics, he’s a failure time and time again who keeps trying to prove he’s a legend that he’s not. Out of 12, only two – “The Sixth Sense” (his biggest big-office hit, at $672 million, and most profitable film) and 2002’s “Signs” (his second biggest, at $408 million) – should have made it to Hollywood.

In a $130 million production, “After Earth” so awkwardly opens with one of the worst intro sequences I’ve seen in quite some time. Amateur “indicating” acting – especially from Jaden Smith – and shoddy editing that rushes along without a backstory we needed hastily launches us into a poorly scripted excuse for Will Smith to be on the screen with his golden child.

Their unusual English accents never make sense. Why Will Smith speaks so slowly doesn’t fit with his attempted character traits and would at least be better explained if we saw him drowsily doped up on Benadryl. While Jaden Smith’s 15-year-old acting does warm up after the train wreck of when the camera first features him, “After Earth” is a performance regression for someone who has proven quality dramatic acting with 2006’s “The Pursuit of Happyness” and 2010’s “The Karate Kid”.

Zoe Kravitz in After Earth
Zoë Kravitz in “After Earth”.
Image credit: Frank Masi, Columbia Pictures

I pretty much expected a Willow Smith cameo just to whip her hair against a poisonous lion or a tiger. Then at least we’d have had a completely honest attempt to cash in the entire Smith family. Instead, we’re subjected to a pitch to join a cult with cheesy lines like “danger is real; fear is a choice” so as to make a rich Hollywood family even richer without deserving it.

And yes, Zoë Kravitz is Lenny Kravitz’s daughter. The film’s family flashbacks to scenes when the daughter, mother and son show some semblance of normalcy, emotion and love are one of its few effective devices that can somewhat be believed. But they’re in the past, they feel lazily plopped in and we can’t translate them into how they’re supposed to impact the present. We have emotion back then, but little in modern day when this duo has to fight for their lives to survive.

In this story by Will Smith, he envisioned his Cypher Raige character to maintain a mission as a post-apocalyptic “ranger” without emotion much like Gregory House. But his character never evolves. Cypher’s wife, Faia Raige – actually played evocatively by Sophie Okonedo – even warns him early on that Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) needs a father rather than a ranger. A paternal instinct peeps in every now and then, but that’s ultimately a critically missing element of a script that’s plagued with countless other problems.

Jaden Smith in After Earth
Jaden Smith in “After Earth”.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

All plants and animals on Earth – since its destruction – have evolved to kill humans. Well, except for a conveniently placed bigass bird that decides to mother Kitai for no apparent reason. “After Earth” attempts to extract your real emotion in a seminal scene with this bird, and for me, it worked. But I had to let go of all logic and all understanding that I was being manipulated with a trite Hollywood plot twist – and then I could feel in that moment when others might have laughed.

But moments like that were less than few and far between. Aside from then – and a similarly attempted scene at the end that tried to circle back to an earlier shot “for honor” – “After Earth” suffers a lack of much-needed emotion in its abandoned badlands where it spent 100 short minutes trying to earn your adoration.

Picking from a script that had holes within holes, the film’s most grievous plot evolution was Jaden Smith’s attempted character growth. You’ve got a boy who desperately wants to earn ranger status and formally fails to. While he’s pretty much afraid of his own shadow, suddenly he gets shipwrecked and has to buck up and be the ranger he never was.

Jaden Smith in After Earth
Jaden Smith in “After Earth”.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

Culminating in what actually was an entertaining “ghosting” fight against the film’s big bad monster, Kitai unrealistically learns to hide his fear. But later, if your brain is active, you realize how manipulated you were as we can’t believe how he got there. Kitai suddenly gets cut off from dad in his mission to find a rescue beacon miles away – and unrealistically decides to age himself from a fearful child into a fearless man by jumping off a cliff with a smart suit.

Mind you, I freely admit that I’d love to sport that flying suit, which is much like the uncommon Tanooki Suit found in Super Mario Bros. 3. And likewise, my geeky gadget side enjoyed much of the film’s technological advances – especially a ranger’s greatest weapon: a morphing cutlass that can transform into dozens of different swords. But expensive CGI and delicious eye candy aside, ultimately the core of what we’re left with is a film M. Night Shyamalan shouldn’t have directed, Jaden Smith shouldn’t have starred in and Will Smith shouldn’t have fathered.

“After Earth” stars Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoë Kravitz, Glenn Morshower and David Denman. Its screenplay is by Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan, story by Will Smith and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film has a running time of 100 minutes and was released on May 31, 2013. “After Earth” is rated “PG-13” for sci-fi action/violence and some disturbing images.

HollywoodChicago.com publisher Adam Fendelman


© 2013 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

Dan P.'s picture

I Love You!

Can I just say that I love you! Ha! Ha! Ha! I loved this review, Jaden, Will, Jada, Willow, Any of the Smith’s Make me sick and this… oh God *Sense the eyeroll and Sigh* I just couldn’t stomach it, but on Rotten Tomatoes, I saw your review and figured it was going to be about the worst for the bunch and so I clicked on it, which I never usually go on to the full review, but I’m glad I did… Every time you see this selfish, pushy, abrasive, self-serving, absorbed bunch they’re all always up in your face and think they are the most wonderful things in the world, Please let me tell you, I’ve seen greater local actors who were never given much of a chance in this world who will spend their entire lives going on unrecognized, which makes me sick, when you think of all the good they’d do for moviegoers, and humanity alike… I wish the Smith’s would apologize for all their self-serving crap! They’re relentless and always up in your face, I heard the story where the Fresh Prince Set hated Will and he even just gave Tyrese a huge earful which was a joke, like who is he to lecture anyone about talent? I’m shocked, he’s flexing muscles that he doesn’t have! I cannot thank you enough for your honest review, please write more with such great quality and cynicism!

jake's picture

Your Box Office Numbers are off.

Doing a quick review of the box office mojo numbers once accounting for production and PROMOTION of the movies M. NIght IS Solidly in the RED. Several billion Dollars in the Red. More thorough research Sir. If you are a true movie critic, you know production Numbers are only a part of the costs involved in bringing a movie to the public. The promotion budget sometimes is = to or greater thatn the production budget. Either way in this case your numbers are off. Shoddy Reporting. But I agree M. Night is a HACK.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

Production budgets

Production budgets can be accurately quantified while the rest cannot always be or is sometime private. So, I was calculating a figure than can be accurately quantified. I stated the number as such.

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