In a far-away future, long after humankind has abandoned Earth after self-inflicted environmental disaster, a spaceship is forced to crash-land on our old home planet, now under strict quarantine. The only surviving crew members are Captain Cypher (W. Smith) and his son Kitai (Smith’s real-life son Jaden). Two broken legs confine the former to the shipwreck, so it is up to Junior to retrieve the only signal rocket from a second crash site miles away to send out an intergalactic SOS. The whole premise is a flimsy excuse to send young Jaden on a videogame-style safari through the prehistoric scenery of the post-human planet, where “everything has evolved to kill humans,” as we learn. But besides killer monkeys, toxic leeches, and a car-sized eagle there is another monster on the loose: an ugly, man-hunting alien beast the ship was carrying onboard, which comes in handy as a vicious end boss.
Smith Senior closely guides his teenage Mini-Me through the mission via wristband videophone, seamlessly shifting between micromanaging directions, pseudo-spiritual pep talks, and military commands. In fact, the unintentional comedy of Smith’s inane lines and crude delivery provides a rare diversion to keep this dull and lifeless piece of filmmaking from completely lulling you to sleep – with the exception of an atmospheric score by Shyamalan’s house composer James Newton Howard, who juxtaposes tense dystopian creep-out soundscapes with heartwarming swells of strings, as if accompanying a less preposterous flick. Yet this is worse than just another botched run at box office gold. Something about After Earth rubs you the wrong way, even when ignoring its less-than-subtle scientology overtones. The plain allegorical subtext of Daddy Smith (who came up with the story and co-produced together with his wife and brother-in-law) nudging his fourteen-year-old son toward full-fledged moviestardom with this tailor-made $130-million present takes nepotism and celebrity self-absorption to shameless new heights.
After Earth | Directed by M. Night Shyamalan (USA 2013) With Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo. Starts June 6