Alas, I am once again forced to do what I have been doing each time M. Night Shyamalan releases a film: document the staggering downward spiral of a man once thought of as the next Steven Spielberg. This time, it’s After Earth, a witless, banal, tedious, melodramatic special-effects fest that is disappointing from the opening sequence until the credits role, thankfully just 100 minutes later.
In 1999, Shyamalan burst onto the scene with one of my all-time favorite films, The Sixth Sense. He was hailed as a writing and directing genius, his name thrown in with Kubrick, Copolla and Scorsese. The movie-going world sat with bated breath awaiting his sophomore offering. That film came in 2000, Unbreakable. While financially and artistically disappointing, industry professionals and audiences cut him a break; The Sixth Sense would be hard to follow.
Then after Signs, The Village and The Lady in the Water, people lost hope. Was Shyamalan a one-hit wonder? I’m not sure what went wrong. Did Shyamalan suffer from Vin Deisel-itis (too arrogant too fast), or was he tethered by the industry, or maybe he only had one good script in his head? Whatever the reason, it is painfully obvious from After Earth that these days, he is just cashing a paycheck.
I won’t waste too much of your time here. Cypher (Will Smith) and his son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), crash land on Earth, a desolate uninhabited planet. The boy must battle all manner of computer-generated flora and fauna in order to retrieve a rescue beacon and summon help. There may have been more to it than that, but there was a tear in the fabric on my armrest and I started unraveling the thread—at least something in the theater had my attention. It’s a 3.