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Thursday, June 13, 2013 09:03 am

Both Smiths end up marooned on Earth

Jaden Smith stars as Kitai Raige in After Earth.

Much has been written in the last week pertaining to how awful Will Smith’s After Earth is. It’s been referred to as the Battlefield Earth for a new generation, described as “cheesy,” “horrible” and “uneven” while one critic has stated that one of the main characters “has all the likability of an anal fissure.” (Yep, right along with “Call me Ishmael,” this was a line I wish I had written.) To be sure, the film is not very good but it’s not nearly as bad as to draw this sort of enmity. I think that where megastars are concerned, after awhile we long to see them fall and when there’s a whiff of failure to anything they do, instead of giving them a pass, critics and the public alike sense the blood in the water and swarm around to take part in the feeding frenzy that is the public deconstruction of the superstar we once helped build with our blind adoration.

So take all the excessively negative comments pertaining to Earth with a grain of salt as this has more to do with taking Smith down a notch or two than accurately and fairly critiquing this film. If anything, this misguided sci-fi effort is an example of how powerful the actor has become on a global scale and how Sony Pictures will go to any lengths to keep him happy. (After all, they want to get another two or three Men in Black features out of him.) This half-hearted effort would never have been produced if a star with less clout was attached. As written by Gary Whitta and director M. Night Shyamalan, from a story by Smith, the script is a half-formed pastiche of clichés that could have stood a rewrite or three. However, when summer release dates loom and the biggest movie star in the world is pushing to get the movie made in an effort to set his own son on the same path to international fame, a luxury such as another writer taking a whack at the script cannot be afforded.

To wit, the time is the far distant future, 1,000 years after the human race has had to abandon Earth, having befouled its atmosphere. All seems well as they’ve relocated to a similar planet dubbed Nova Prime, however there are some nasty beasties there who can literally smell fear and once the humans get a look at them, a pheromone is secreted and you’re toast. However, one mighty warrior named Cypher Raige (Smith, who surely came up with his character’s name) is able to control his fear and wipe out these baddies. His poor son Kitai (Jaden Smith) has a hard time living in his dad’s shadow and up to his reputation, however, he gets a chance to prove himself when they both crash land on Earth and must navigate its hostile terrain and combat fierce wildlife to survive.

Plot wise, the film is a linear exercise that doesn’t dare to divert from its predestined conclusion. As a showcase for its 14-year-old star, the movie is pitched directly to that demographic and as such is free from complications or complexity. Adding to the movie’s woes is that fact, that the elder Smith is out of the action for most of the film – poor Cypher suffers two broken legs in the crash – and it’s up to Jaden to carry the load. The kid proved he had presence in The Karate Kid redo but having seen him here, I’m left with the notion that he was simply playing a variation of himself in the remake. Here, where he’s required to develop and play a character, he’s as lost as an addled starship drifting in deep space. When you find yourself hoping that a saber tooth tiger will rip the poor kid to shreds so that the movie will mercifully come to an end, then you’ve got a real problem. Surely Smith will survive and provide more summer blockbusters in the future. However, the fate of poor Jaden’s career is a question mark after Earth.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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