When your dad is a world famous actor and you have ambitions to be an actor as well, then what better way to further your career than to star with him in a film that is meant to be a springboard into the big time.
Only problem with this theory is you have to choose the right film and unfortunately After Earth isn’t it.
Although a competent enough actor, young Jaden Smith – son of the more famous Will Smith – doesn’t yet have the experience, maturity or charisma to carry a whole film and that is what is being asked of him here. He is Kitai Raige, a young Ranger in awe of his father Cypher (Will Smith), a famous and celebrated General who, 1000 years in the future, leads the human army on their new home of Nova Prime. At the suggestion of Kitai’s mother, Cypher takes his inexperienced son with him on a mission in order to strengthen the father/son bond, but their spacecraft crash lands on the one planet they really don’t want to land on; Earth – now an extremely dangerous place for a human to be.
Cypher is badly injured and so it is left to his young son to travel across Earth to retrieve a rescue beacon, but as everything he encounters wants to kill him (including an alien creature that has escaped from the space craft) it’s odds-on he is not going to make it.
The structure of the film – with Kitai out in the big bad world and Cypher stuck in the wreckage of the space craft giving him instructions via communicator – is one of the reasons the film doesn’t work. It means that the better actor gets to do very little while the still green-around-the-gills Jaden Smith has to do too much. His stroppy teenager act soon becomes tiresome and although there are some nice scenes (Kitai activating his flying suit and being chased by a huge raptor) the pacing is very patchy with long interludes where nothing much of anything is going on.
Even the final, climatic scenes featuring the alien creature are anti-climatic in a way because Jaden just cannot convey the absolute, gut-wrenching terror he must initially feel before passing through the fear into cold, calm killing mode.
Director M. Night Shyamalan does what he can with what he’s been given but it all needs to be tighter, tenser, and tougher and a little bit of humour thrown into the mix wouldn’t have gone amiss either.