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Roeper: M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘After Earth’ crashes and burns

Jaden Smith stars ColumbiPictures' 'After Earth' also starring Will Smith.

Jaden Smith stars in Columbia Pictures' "After Earth," also starring Will Smith.

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‘AFTER EARTH’ ★

Cypher Raige..............Will Smith

Kitai Raige...............Jaden Smith

Faia Raige.........Sophie Okonedo

Senshi Raige..............Zoe Kravitz

Velan...............Glenn Morshower

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Written by Gary Whitta and Shyamalan, based on a story by Will Smith. Running time:
1 hour and 40 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and disturbing images. Opening May 31 at local theaters.

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Updated: July 2, 2013 7:03AM



We know it’s the future because nobody lives in the suburbs and nearly everyone wears gray or white.

If there’s a guidebook titled “Movies Set in the Future,” the chapters on architecture and fashion must be very slim and quite redundant.

As for the plot, I guess recycling remains in vogue centuries from now. There’s so little here we haven’t seen done previously, and done better.

In “After Earth,” Will Smith and his son Jaden headline a formulaic, at times dreadfully dull and sometimes unintentionally funny sci-fi “thriller” directed with little imagination by a director once thought to be the next Steven Spielberg.

Quite simply, this is one of the worst films of 2013.

In a recent interview with New York magazine, the charming and world-wise Jaden Smith says, “I’m just working in the family business with my dad.”

Also: “You know how Johnny Depp and Tim Burton always do movies together, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio? We’ll have a relationship like that.”

That’s a well-intentioned sentiment from the young Smith, who first teamed with his father in the excellent and inspirational “The Pursuit of Happyness” and reunites with his dad seven years later in “After Earth,” which is neither of those things.

The problem with the comparison, of course, is when we’re talking about Depp, DiCaprio, Burton and Scorsese, we’re talking about four of the most talented film artists of our time. When we’re talking about Will Smith and son Jaden, we’re referencing one of the world’s greatest movie stars and his son, who would be working the register if Dad owned a restaurant, not co-creating the menu.

This movie is “Take Your Kid to Work Day” to the extreme.

Some day Jaden Smith may have the talent and screen presence to carry a movie. That day is not now. (And if it seems harsh for a grown man to criticize a 14-year-old, remember, I’m not the one who put him in a movie.)

In “After Earth,” we’re once again given the lecture about how humans destroyed their home paradise and had to evacuate the planet some 1,000 years ago.

(If we have the knowledge and wherewithal to evacuate an entire planet and transport millions if not billions to another galaxy, why can’t we figure out a way to save our own world? It seems cheaper.)

Now humans are living on an exoplanet known as Nova Prime, constantly on the lookout for alien-created killing machines that can literally smell fear.

Ah, but Cypher Raige (Will Smith), who talks in robotic fashion as if he’s some kind of other worldly being himself, is absolutely, 100 percent fearless — which renders him invisible to the monsters.

His son Kitai (Jaden) isn’t so lucky. Emotionally scarred by a traumatic event from his childhood that we see so many times in flashback it feels sadistic, Kitai is practically paralyzed by fear.

That’s not a good thing after the general brings his son along on a seemingly routine mission.

(It’s the last mission before the general retires to a desk life. Cop movies, heist films and futuristic sci-fi thrillers all have that in common: You say you’re going to retire after one last job, and that job is going to go BOOM.)

After the ship crashes, “After Earth” segues from a Will Smith movie to a Jaden Smith movie. We spend a lot of time — a LOT of time — watching this kid confront his inner demons while he trembles, cries, improvises, runs, runs some more, runs yet again, lashes out at laughably fake-looking creatures and continues to experience those disturbing and creepy flashbacks.

There was a time when an M. Night Shyamalan-directed film was a real event. From “The Sixth Sense” through “Unbreakable” and even “Signs,” Shyamalan’s gifts for suspense and surprise were such he was earning comparisons to Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock.

That was a long time and many films ago. “After Earth” is a film without wit or sparkle. At times the special effects look so cheesy that you wonder if they’re going to pull back and show members of the crew rocking the ship or working the strings on puppets.

In the meantime, we keep getting heavy-handed metaphors about overcoming fear and unbearably clunky dialogue.

Also, I could go the rest of my life without seeing another grotesque, screeching monster with deadly pincers and an unquenchable appetite for humans.

That must be another entry in the “Movies Set in the Future” handbook.



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