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Allen Adams Allen Adams
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Where the son don't shine After Earth'

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Smith's father-son project bland, boring sci-fi

Nepotism is a major part of the entertainment world; the world in general, really. You'd have to be nave not to understand that. It's just the way things work. Sometimes, someone is going to gain an advantage in his or her career simply by virtue of shared DNA. Most of the time, it isn't that big a deal. A cousin gets a PA job, a nephew gets a few lines of dialogue, that sort of thing.

On the other hand, occasionally you get 'After Earth.'

Will Smith ('Men in Black III') has clearly bored of merely being a movie icon and is now trying to diversify his entertainment holdings i.e. his children. So he's grooming his 15-year-old son Jaden ('The Karate Kid') to assume the mantle of stardom.

And it just isn't working.

'After Earth' is set 1,000 years in the future. Mankind long ago fled to the stars, abandoning the native planet that they had rendered uninhabitable. But even on their new world of Nova Prime, there are dangers. Aliens called Ursa serve as man's primary predator. Though they are blind, the Ursa sense their human prey via pheromones specifically, those released by fear.

But there are soldiers who have developed such control over their fearful impulses that the Ursa simply cannot detect them. These warriors are known as 'ghosts' and are the only real defense the human colony has against the menace.

Will Smith is Cypher Raige (that's seriously his name), one of the greatest of the ghosts and a high-level commander. Jaden plays Kitai, Cypher's son and an aspiring ghost. Traumatic events in the family's past have left the two struggling to maintain a relationship; in an attempt to get closer, Cypher invited Kitai along with him on Cypher's last space mission before retirement.

Last mission before retirement? You know that ship is crashing.

And it does on the long-quarantined planet Earth. And apparently, all Earth has been doing for the past 1,000 years is evolving ways to kill humans. Of course, Cypher and Kitai are the sole survivors of the crash, but Cypher's legs are broken and so is the emergency beacon. This means that Kitai must go out alone into the wilderness and find the ship's tail section which crashed 100 kilometers away and activate the other beacon.

'After Earth' has a run time of 100 minutes. While I can't say for certain how it breaks down, here's what it felt like:

40 minutes of Will Smith sitting in a chair.

40 minutes of Jaden Smith running through the woods and fighting some mediocre CGI.

15 minutes of assorted familial flashbacks.

5 minutes on a spaceship.

Yep. That seems about right.

You can't dispute Will Smith's blockbuster bona fides, but having your movie star essentially immobilized for the duration of your film seems like poor planning. He basically grunts, groans and grimaces his way through. And the sad truth is that young Jaden doesn't appear to be cut out for this business. There's nothing at all engaging about him. You'd think that he'd have inherited at least a little residual charisma from his parents, but you'd be wrong. He's bland and unsure on the rare occasion that he speaks; they let Dad do most of the talking via voiceover.

Director M. Night Shyamalan (who also co-wrote the script) is kind of a punchline these days. His name has become synonymous with the increasingly-irritating (and unnecessary) 'twists' that seem to be becoming more and more ubiquitous in films these days. His work here is unremarkable; perhaps the only noteworthy aspect is that there is no twist. Or maybe the lack of twist is the twist. Or something.

It's as if the director of the high school musical cast his own kid in the lead, except this musical has a $200 million budget and a worldwide release. Add to that an uninteresting story, slow pacing and some serious underperformance by the big names and 'After Earth' is easily one of the first big disappointments of 2013's summer season.

1 out of 5


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