M. Night Shyamalan’s career is in free fall much like one the many laughable scenes in After Earth. The scene involves Jaden Smith hurling himself off a cliff and his special space suit opens up to sprout a web like design that enables the young man to fly and maneuver like a bird. Many thought Shyamalan would rebound with this star vehicle for Jaden and pop Will Smith playing (what else) a father and son team on their way to a training post when their space ship crashes on Earth. Earth is uninhabitable now that we have destroyed the planet and all that lives there now is a bunch of pissed off animals and assorted creatures that crave human flesh. Will Smith is Commander Cypher Raige. He is a seemingly stoic leader who is so fearless he can ‘ghost’. We are told that ‘Ghosting’ is when a man is so fearless that he releases no fear pheromones thus the enemy aliens can not see him. Evidentially, the evil aliens can only see the juicy humans because if you show fear, your body releases pheromones that make you an easy meal for the creatures. When the ship crashes the distress beacon is in the tail of the ship which is 100 kilometers away. Since Cypher has broken both legs it is up to Kitai (Jaden Smith) to find the distress beacon, activate it calling for help.
M. Night Shyamalan is a fine director, in mu humble opinion. He has directed three standout films EARLY in his career. The Sixth Sign which gave Bruce Willis a second life in acting in a great and heartbreaking film. He, too had a series of disappointing films until that film made him a A list star. Signs (my personal favorite) solidified Mel Gibson as a leading man in dramas in addition to action films. Unbreakable re-teamed Shyamalan and Willis this time with Samuel Jackson and Robin Wright. After that, came The Village which I saw when it first came out and hated it. I have since softened my dislike for the film and I do actually like the first hour or so. It is vintage Shyamalan; slow tracking shots, quiet and still with very clever lighting adding some real terror. Problem is, Shyamalan reveals too many plot twists and the second half is simple preposterous. After The Village, it went from bad to worse with a string of simply BAD films; Lady In The Water, The Happening and the truly wretched The Last Airbender. What happened? I don’t know. After Earth is not as bad as The Last Airbender but it is maddeningly dull. Will Smith is truly a bore as Cypher. He is supposed to be fearless and without emotion. He is also very boring to watch. His character is without fear and emotion but he is also a unsympathetic jerk with NO sense of humor AT ALL. You won’t like him, so strike one. Jaden is more interesting to watch only because he is SOOOOO no like his father CAN be. Will Smith can be heroic, brave and funny. Jaden is none of those. His acting in this film is insufferable. So strike two. One character we hate, another that could not act his way out of a wet paper bag (as of yet, anyway). The third strike is that, AGAIN we have a film whose visuals are the lifeblood but the script is tedious and the action is so uninteresting that the whole film becomes a flaccid mess. The script, written by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta is without any real emotion and humor. I was surprised to see that it was based on a story by Will Smith. Shockingly, Shyamalan was given 130 MILLION dollars to make After Earth his first film in three years since the debacle of The Last Airbender. You would think the studios (Columbia,mostly) would have looked at his track record the past 10 years and say,”Umm, No.”