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"AFTER EARTH"
(2013) (Will Smith, Jaden Smith) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Science-Fiction: A father and son crash-land their spaceship on a future Earth devoid of humans and now ruled by savage beasts.
PLOT:
Approximately 1,000 years in our future, humanity has fled Earth after polluting and thus causing critical damage to the planet. We have since resettled on another world thanks to the bravery of the Rangers military service led by General Cypher Raige (WILL SMITH). Cypher has become legendary for being able to battle the new world's fearsome alien beasts known as Ursas by showing no fear whatsoever (the creatures can sense fear via a pheromone we secrete).

Unfortunately, his military service has taken him away from his family for long stretches. During one of his long tours of duty, he wasn't there when an Ursa attacked their household and killed his teenage daughter, Senshi (ZOE KRAVITZ), who gave her life to save her brother Kitai's (JADEN SMITH). Kitai is haunted by her death, which he watched unfold before him as a 9-year-old boy. Faia (SOPHIE OKONEDO), Cypher's wife and Kitai's mother, encourages father and son to go on a mission together into space - Cypher's last before he retires.

Unfortunately, their spaceship runs into a freak asteroid storm, forcing them to crash-land on Earth. In 10 centuries, the planet has become a dangerous world ruled over by ferocious beasts of all types. At the same time, the Raiges' ship had been carrying an Ursa that gets loose after the crash-landing. With Cypher gravely wounded, Kitai must make the arduous, 100-kilometer trek to a second wreckage site where he can activate a homing beacon and wait for a rescue.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
So, I saw the new sci-fi thriller, "After Earth," the other night in preview. Or, as I like to call it, "The Passion of the Jaden." Oh yeah. This is the latest collaboration between movie star Will Smith and his teenage son, Jaden. The former "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" star produced the film and is given story credit here. And, man, does he put his kid through the ringer!

The flick is essentially one of those "Most Dangerous Game"-esque survival stories where Jaden's Kitai Raige and his dad, General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), crash-land on a future Earth that mankind deserted 1,000 years earlier. The planet has been returned to the wildlife, and the wildlife has evolved into some fearsome creatures in our absence. Cypher is gravely wounded during the crash, and the rest of the ship's crew have been killed. It falls on Kitai to travel a great distance to the ship's second wreckage site to retrieve and activate a homing beacon so they can be rescued.

Along the way, Jaden will be attacked repeatedly by wild animals, bitten by a leech-like bug, and nearly paralyzed and killed. He is almost frozen to death. He doesn't fall asleep each night. Something renders him unconscious. He has to climb at least two tall mountains, jump off another, fly through the air via a super-suit, and evade a bird of prey. And if that weren't enough, the script calls for him to affect a truly odd "future" accent AND act opposite a lot of computer-generated critters. His character also has daddy issues, of course, AND sister issues. It seems a beastie back on the Raiges' home world got into the house when Kitai was 9 and slaughtered his sis, Senshi (Zoe Kravitz, daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet), right in front of him. So, there are flashbacks galore to this killing.

OK, it seems that if you don't like Jaden Smith, you're labeled a "hater." Well, I don't hate the kid. I have always accepted the fact that life for most is not so much who you know or what you know, as it is whose loins you are sprung from. The kid had the luck of the genetic draw. I'd be in movies, too, if my old man had gone Hollywood back in the '60s. The problem is that Jaden Smith is a truly, deeply limited actor. When you call on him to do THIS much on screen, it's not good. In fact, it's painful. You never really buy into the "reality" of the film throughout because the whole thing is structured to prop the kid up.

It needed Will Smith to be more of the star, to do some of the heavy lifting. But, instead, he is stuck back in the wreckage of the spaceship, monitoring the boy's progress across the hostile landscape while dealing with two broken legs. He also speaks in this weird accent, and it's just a bad, bad choice. He and his son sound like Terrence Howard doing bad Sidney Poitier. Neither of the Smiths is consistent with it throughout, especially Jaden. And what few supporting characters there are in the beginning of the film, some attempt the accent. Others do not (Kravitz, in particular).

On the positive side, the film makes terrific use of Northern California and Utah locations. Sure, the future Earth looks every bit like the forest moon of Endor. But the Redwoods are still a GREAT and largely untapped movie location and perfect for an overgrown Earth. Also, at 90 minutes, the film is a pretty lean and efficient survival thriller competently directed by one-time wunderkind M. Night Shyamalan. And for those who do indeed wince at the increasingly base content of today's motion pictures, I have to give the film props for containing almost no profanity and no sex. There is also no smoking, drinking, and the future Earthlings apparently don't believe in guns. Cypher and Kitai use only a sword/spear-like weapon known as a "Cutlass."

It's just too bad this isn't all in service of a better film. I didn't hate "After Earth." I just never bought into it. I always felt like I was watching it and not involved due to the choices in casting and performance (and some spotty CGI effects). As a result, I rate it no higher than a 4 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed May 29, 2013 / Posted May 31, 2013


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