Monday, June 3, 2013

After Earth

"After Earth" is a grim, joyless exercise in what feels like Scientology indoctrination.
It's as though Tom Cruise had told Will Smith, "You too can turn an extremely successful movie career into a string of exponentially bigger flops." This one's likely to be one of the biggest of all time, right up there with John Travolta's Scieno paean "Battlefield Earth." 

In this future saga set a thousand years hence, Smith plays intergalactic warrior Cypher Raige (an L. Ron Hubbard name if ever there was one). In an instance of nepotism that seems to have ticked off everyone in Hollywood, Smith decreed - against all available evidence - that his son Jaden had the talent and charisma for what is the starring role in the picture, Cypher's son Ketai. When their spaceship (which looks like it was cobbled together from leftover pieces of a Buck Rogers set) crash-lands on long-since-evacuated Earth, Ketai must traverse the planet to find and launch the beacon (which looks like an e-meter) that will alert headquarters to come rescue them. 

Cypher, meanwhile, stays at his computer console, meaningfully intoning Scieno-sounding jargon to Ketai about losing his fear and remaining always entirely in the present. This has the effect of giving Will Smith - sly-grinning, slick-talking, fun Will Smith who not long ago was perhaps the world's most bankable movie star - a complete charisma-ectomy. His one or two attempts at humor - including one about how his wife (a wasted Sophie Okonedo) might answer a question - are so leaden, even Scienos forced to sit through a screening would have trouble faking a laugh.

The CGI effects - which culminate in an un-bear-like man-eating creature called an Ursa that smells fear - are generic and unconvincing. The movie looks like it was produced on the cheap at Gold Base in Hemet. And even at 100 minutes, I found myself nodding off several times. For director M. Night Shyamalan, "After Earth" probably represents the end of a once-promising career. One or two more unwatchable vanity projects and Will Smith will be in the same boat.

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