Will Smith joins forces with his son Jaden in the post-apocalyptic thriller "After Earth", which hits movie theaters this weekend. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman filed the following review for NY1.
I've lost count, but "After Earth" seems like it must be the fourth post-apocalyptic thriller this month. The movie teams Will Smith and his son, Jaden Smith, and it was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the former maestro of the twist ending. But Shyamalan's star has fallen, and the only twist in After Earth is that there is no twist. The film takes off from a concept as basic as a video game, and it sticks to that concept, without surprise.
In the dystopian future, the human race has had to abandon a toxic earth overrun by snappy-jawed monsters that look like they came out of a "Starship Troopers" sequel. Will Smith plays Cypher, a Ranger famous for his absence of fear, and Jaden is his son, Kitai, who's traveling with him on an interplanetary mission. When an asteroid storm forces the ship to crash-land on earth, Cypher is badly injured, and it's up to Kitai to travel 100 kilometers to retrieve a homing beacon. But his father, who can see what Kitai sees through a digital transmission, talks to him as if he were a video game avatar, guiding the kid through his odyssey to manhood.
We're not used to seeing Will Smith without his humor, but in "After Earth", he's heavy-lidded and solemn, and he speaks with grave deliberation, never even using contractions. He tries to make Cypher a kind of Obi-Wan figure, and Smith is charismatic enough to pull this off, but the father/son, mentor/disciple relationship is actually better than the rest of the film, which feels like a plate of sci-fi leftovers.
The knives have been out for Jaden Smith, who critics, and increasingly the whole world, treats as a talentless celebrity offspring with a dad who will do anything to turn him into a movie star. I'm someone who thinks Jaden Smith actually has talent. But a film in which he mostly has to act all by himself, taking orders from his father as he dodges post-apocalyptic clichés isn't doing him any favors.