A man with more money than sense tries to buy a film career for his spoiled teenage son. The pair play a father and son from space who get stranded on a post-apocalyptic earth which is overrun by animals.
Great films can come from many places. The corporate profit motive still manages to facilitate significant creativity. Great films have been made under the strict censorship of the Iranian government, or as propaganda by the soviet union. But I’m yet to be convinced a great film can come from the desire to give a spoiled teen a film career.
But that’s exactly what this film feels like. Get daddy to produce. Bring in a shameless director with a bit of name recognition (M Night Shyamalan). Slap together a film with sets that look like they’ve been dressed at B&Q and props that look like they’re made of Styrofoam. Make Jaden Smith star in it, and boom! He will have a career.
It’s easy to see the story parallels with real life. Jaden plays the son of a wealthy and famous individual, doomed to live in his shadow. Will plays the distant but pushy father determined to make his son achieve. Since Smith Sr wrote the story, it looks like he deliberately wrote his son’s part to be like his actual life. Yet even with this slow underarm ball, Jaden swings a miss.
The big flaw in the master plan is that Jaden Smith can’t act at all. So while this was intended to launch his career, he will have instead learned a lesson in failure, and the heavy criticism and box office disappointment that ensues. The resulting film is on a par with the Smiths’ attempt to give 9-year-old Willow a pop career with that song.
What’s less clear is why the naturally charismatic Will is so bad. He’s best when he’s playing cocky, confident characters, but here plays the cold, withdrawn father. This is all the more remarkable given his writing credit. It’s hard to escape the view he’s trying not to upstage his terrible son.
After Earth mines new depths of joylessness. It’s a tedious, never-ending story with no purpose, about characters that are without interest. It’s miserable and depressing. It’s cold and empty. This is what happens when you create a cinematic Super Sweet Sixteen.