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FILM REVIEW: After Earth

Categories: Movies

It's good be the king.

With movies like Bad Boys, Men in Black and I am Legend, the former Fresh Prince rose to the top of the Hollywood food chain.

He and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith are now Hollywood royalty and like the royals, they are keeping it in the family. From Will and Jada came the children Willow and Jaden. Willow already had a flourishing recording career before she opted out of becoming the next Annie, while Jaden has already appeared in the lead role in the new Karate Kid, a film produced by the Smith's production company.

Now we find the elder Smith in a strange place — caught between his past life and future plans. During a series of promotional tours, he treated us with a couple of impromptu performances, Big Willie style. Watch him rocking the room on The Grahan Norton Show below.

This is the Smith we grew up with. The joker with the mile-wide smile and an implacable sense of ease.

Well erase that image from your mind if you're heading for After Earth, because what Smith and family have for us is a deathly serious affair. Call it Oblivion the sequel.

Humanity has left Earth and moved to a new home called Nova Prime but also provoked the fury of alien Ursas (giant, albino, lobster-like creatures that smell our fear pheromones). Enter Will Smith as Cypher Raige (really!), the fearless ultimate warrior of the alien-slaying Ranger corps. Cypher and his son Kitai head off to visit a training settlement, but an incident in space forces them to crash land on Earth — a planet teeming with carnivorous creature. With Dad immobilized, it's up to the nervous son to travel 100 km to activate a homing beacon.

And whom have the Smiths anointed to weave this tale? Director M. Night Shyamalan, someone whose trajectory has been decidedly different. He blazed onto the scene in 1999 with The Sixth Sense and the games he played with audiences became his trademark. But with each film those audiences have gotten smaller.

Pitch-hitting for the Smiths on this vanity project, Shyamalan delivers a sophisticated-looking film filled with interesting organic technology and smart clothing with adaptable properties. But Shyamalan and his small army of writers should have transferred some of that sophistication into the screenplay. This is nothing more than a sci-fi fairy tale, complete with the conquering king, a hero's quest and the inevitable dragon to smite at the end.

 Jaden Smith is overburdened in the role of nervous son. (Sony/Columbia Pictures)

No longer the Fresh Prince, Will Smith has dialed his charisma down into the negatives for this one. As Cypher, he's unstoppable, unflappable but also unlovable, gritting his teeth so hard to be the hero, he's almost subhuman. Smith spends much of the film trapped in the command centre of the wrecked spacecraft, stoically spouting catchphrases about "fear is a choice" that sound suspiciously like Scientology 101. (Hmmm does that volcano from the trailers look familiar from the cover of Ron Hubbard's Dianetics?)

Truth is Dad has big plans for Jaden and After Earth was supposed to be the start of a potential new trilogy. The perfect gift for the son who has everything, a film franchise all his own. But Jaden, whose emotional range goes from panicked to perturbed, doesn't have anything like the spark Will Smith exhibited when he first arrived some 23 years ago. He's not his father's son and wilts under the strain of his character's crushing emotional baggage.

Smith's attempt to install his progeny as the next action star reeks of arrogance and is the kind of thinking that could bring this Hollywood dynasty crashing back to reality.


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