** ½ out of four
Nothing brings a father and son together like crash landing on a hostile planet. That's the gist of After Earth, M. Night Shyamalan's science fiction opus that's a major step up from his last picture, the disastrous action/fantasy The Last Airbender (2010).
The father and son here are Cypher and Kitai Raige (real life dad and son Will and Jaden Smith), and the planet in question is a far into the future Earth, which is chock full of predators and random bouts of harsh weather.
Cypher and Kitai are the only survivors when their spacecraft crashes on Earth after being pummeled by an asteroid field. The ship is split in two and the distress beacon that they need is in the tail end of the vessel, which landed miles away from their crash site. Because Cypher's legs are both broken, Kitai must travel out into the hostile environment to retrieve the beacon.
Everything is on hand for a tense adventure: The ticking clock because Kitai only has so many hours of oxygen capsules and Cypher is losing blood. There is also the reluctant hero in Kitai. So, why isn't the movie more suspenseful? Now, it's fairly watchable for a Shyamalan film, but it's never as gripping as it should be. The main problem falls on the little Smith. Teenage Jaden isn't yet a good enough actor to carry an entire film. He comes off more as whiny and annoying rather than the frightened kid his character is supposed to be. It doesn't help that the script, by Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli) and Shyamalan, is loaded with stilted dialogue, which is delivered in a deliberately mannered style. And some of the big dramatic arcs are kind of goofy, like when Kitai finds his courage. It reminded me of when Bruce Leroy finds his "glow" in The Last Dragon (1985).
After Earth is a passable summer movie...but just barely.