After Earth and Now You See Me

Will Smith’s crash landing, Jesse Eisenberg’s all-star magic act.

Not since John Travolta kicked the tires on Battlefield Earth and pronounced it good to go has there been a big-name sci-fi flameout quite as disastrous as Will Smith’s After Earth. The movie is dull and talky and fundamentally misconceived. The whole point of putting Will Smith in a picture is to light it up with his warmth and witty line readings -- with his world-class charm. Here he plays a grim-lipped buzz-killer who never cracks a smile. And while the presence of director M. Night Shyamalan might once have promised saving grace, this film is just another sad token of the man’s decade-long artistic decline.

The story -- hatched by Smith, co-scripted by Shyamalan -- is set way in the future, a thousand years after the inhabitants of Earth fled their eco-ravaged home to set up shop on another planet. Here, Smith plays Cypher Raige (one of the movie’s several silly names), a space-fleet commander so focused on his job that he has neglected to bond with his son, Kitai (Jaden Smith, Will’s own son). So Cypher agrees to take the boy along on his next space mission. Unfortunately, their vessel is knocked out of the heavens by one of those pesky space storms and plummets down onto a hostile planet that we soon learn to be -- yes, Earth.

Cypher and Kitai are the only survivors of this crash landing, which has broken both of Cypher’s legs. What they need now is a signal beacon to summon help. Unfortunately, this key piece of equipment has been hurled about a hundred kilometers away. Kitai must go fetch it, and it won’t be easy. As Cypher tells his son, “Everything on this planet has evolved to kill humans.” (Since there haven’t been any humans here for a thousand years, one wonders how the local wildlife could have evolved to even recognize them.) All should be well, however, if Kitai will just man-up: “Danger is real,” Cypher says, “but fear is a choice.” Thanks, Dad.

So the stalwart Kitai sets out on his journey, with Cypher monitoring his progress via an array of cool cockpit tech that was miraculously undamaged by the impact of the ship’s landing. From this point through most of the rest of the movie Cypher and Kitai are never in the same place -- they communicate only by two-way audio chatter, with Kitai describing to his father what’s going on and Cypher telling his son what to watch out for. There’s a very large tarantula, a herd of gibbering baboons, a really big bird, and a great slavering mass of CGI alien. But while Cypher has told Kitai that the planet is subject to wild weather swings, and that the whole place freezes over every night, what we actually see as the kid scurries along is a landscape lush with verdant plant life. We might be in Northern California, or the Costa Rican rainforest (two of the places where the movie was actually shot).

The fact that Cypher is on the verge of nodding out through much of this further limits Will Smith’s expressive possibilities. And while 14-year-old Jaden is not a bad actor, he also doesn’t have his father’s effortless charisma (not yet, anyway). The movie has the feel of a vanity project. It was produced by Will Smith and Jaden’s mother, Jada Pinkett Smith, and his uncle, Caleeb Pinkett, and it seems intended to establish the younger Smith as a full-fledged action star capable of carrying a whole movie (since his father is mainly set dressing). This does Jaden a disservice, because he can’t do that. Given the movie’s excruciating listlessness, it’s hard to imagine anyone who could.    

Now You See Me

Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me has an appealing comic spirit, and it’s a considerable amount of fun, in parts. It concerns four talented but low-level illusionist-hustlers: one card master (Jesse Eisenberg), one mentalist (Woody Harrelson), one daring escape artist (Isla Fisher), and an artful pickpocket (Dave Franco). One day they receive a mysterious summons to become part of The Eye, whatever that may be. They have no idea who’s behind this outfit, but they agree to join, and soon they’re headlining Las Vegas with a group act that ranges from disappearing rabbits to water tanks full of deadly piranhas.

The actors alone make the movie worth watching. Eisenberg, less jittery than usual here, is deftly comic; Harrelson is once again wonderfully droll; Fisher is an entirely lovable screwball; and Franco (brother of James) is a very good-looking guy. Also on hand are Michael Caine, as the quartet’s shady multimillionaire mentor, and Morgan Freeman, as a magic-debunker with a hit TV show. And after the four young stars manage to rob a bank in Paris without leaving their Vegas casino stage, a grizzled FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) shows up with a lovely Interpol operative (Mélanie Laurent) to get to the bottom of their shenanigans. However, as Eisenberg observes, “The closer you look, the less you see.”

And in fact, the group has an overarching plan that resists easy detection. (There’s a very neat twist at the end.) Unfortunately, the movie’s main hook -- all the nifty magic tricks on view -- is also its central problem. Seeing some of these spectacular stunts in person would be one thing -- we’d be wowed. Seeing them in a movie, though, is unimpressive on a basic level. Anything can be faked in a movie; therefore, so what? In a medium built upon illusion, our sense of wonder is much more difficult to engage.

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  • ||

    Question: how many weeks in a row now have we seen a Kurt Loder review article whose blurb's second paragraph begins "Movie B, on the other hand..."?

  • KL||

    ???

  • puturetokyj22||

    Gavin. even though Charlotte`s artlclee is nice... last saturday I bought a great new opel since I been making $7578 this - 5 weeks past an would you believe $10k lass-month. with-out any question its the best job Ive had. I began this 3 months ago and straight away started bringing in more than $82.. per hour grand4.com
    (Go to site and open "Home" for details)

  • Agammamon||

    Hey granpa - I think you forgot how to post to Facebook again.

  • mnarayan||

    I was just thinking the same thing.

  • ||

    Yeah, that seems to be his modus operendi, put the lousy movie first.

  • Killazontherun||

    Beating up on Loder because he finds an alternative to recommend instead of the big screen suckfest that gets panned?

  • KL||

    Umm...never?

  • ||

    May 24: "In Before Midnight, on the other hand..."
    April 26: "Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, meanwhile..."
    April 19: "Upstream Color, on the other hand..."
    April 12: "In Disconnect, on the other hand..."

  • Tommy_Grand||

    Conceding that Joe M. has a point, I will make another: Loder is a kickass movie critic and I enjoy reading his reviews every week. Plus, he has the ballz to admit he reads reviews of his reviews (unlike many journos who only read 'em in secret). I have seen KL admit mistakes in his text and make corrections when called out by reason readers. Most movie reviewers, book reviewers, etc are too aloof to fix stuff they get wrong and/or too proud to admit that anything might be off.

    the ultimate measure for a movie critic is satisfied in this case: movies KL says are good are usually good & movies he sez are godawful are usually crappy, at least as far as i can tell. no, i am not a sock puppet.

  • Agammamon||

    Except for the GI Joe movies which I *should* find them to be nothing but god-awful dreck and yet I *sob* Enjoyed them.

    Maybe I have a brain tumor.

  • KL||

    Ah, I see the problem. You're referring to the little introductory summaries that link to the page with the actual full reviews. I don't write those summaries.

  • ||

    Oh yeah, I was talking about the little intro pieces. I've got nothing against the actual reviews, which are usually amusing, enlightening, or both.

  • Brett L||

    Ah. So the question is answered. MNS is Will Smith's sci-fi kryptonite. Glad everyone else is getting tired of the One Trick Pony. Whoops, MNS is the OTP. I can see how that could get confusing.

  • robc||

    And while the presence of director M. Night Shyamalan might once have promised saving grace

    No.

    Okay, maybe after Sixth Sense, but starting with Unwatchable everything he has done has sucked.

  • RBS||

    The only one I really enjoyed was SIgns.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Signs was my least favorite of his (of the ones I have watched).

  • Brandybuck||

    I stopped watching after Signs. The movie had promise, but wrapping everything up at the end with history's biggest deux ex machina was too much for me.

  • Agammamon||

    Wow, are you guys kidding me?

    RBS you *enjoyed* that?

    And *promise*? The religious guy who loses his faith because of one contrived act and then regains it thanks to another? The aliens that could travel across the cosmos but can't get through a wooden door or use radio navigation aids instead of CROP CIRCLES? The aliens who are harmed by water coming to a planet with an atmosphere full of it and then running around naked? Ed Wood could have done better.

  • Brett L||

    Do you think there's gonna be a plot twist that ruins the movie from being watched again?

    Speaking of...
    How is The Usual Suspects eminently rewatchable even though you know what's coming? Oh, that's right, the director didn't hang the whole movie on the twist.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    See also: Memento, The Crying Game. Just off the top of my head.

  • ||

    +1 for Memento. Insanely brutal, amazing movie.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Why, why, why couldn't they have given the Star Trek and Star Wars reboots to Nolan?

  • Libertarian||

    You beat me to it. Sixth Sense was good. Admittedly, I haven't seen all of his stuff, but every single one since then has been excruciating............ (which may explain why I haven't seen all of his stuff).

  • Loki||

    I didn't even realize he had anything to do with this After Earth movie/ blatant exercise in nepotism. That's how you know that a once promising young director is on the decline: when they no longer put "from [young talented director's name here], the director of _______" in the trailers.

    I think Shyamalan blew his load early on with Sixth Sense. I thought Unbreakable was OK, although the twist at the end, where Samuel Jackson turns out to be the "super villain" to Bruce Willis' "super hero" was pretty easy to see coming. And Signs was OK too, it really went downhill with The Village, and The Happening was a complete waste of 90 minutes of my life that I'll never be able to get back.

  • Robert||

    Downhill with The Village? Why am I the only one who so appreciates that movie? It was great and thought-provoking.

    All those movies had a twist at the end that was easy to see coming. 6th Sense was the least satisfying of them because if you figured it out, as I did (I didn't even see it as hidden, kept figuring there had to be some other twist to it, was disappointed), then there wasn't much left. But the others, especially Unbreakable and The Village, didn't seem to rely on my being surprised to enjoy them.

  • Acosmist||

    Loved The Village too. Don't get the hate. And Unbreakable was AWESOME.

  • Rasilio||

    Lets not forget the total hackjob he did with The Last Airbender.

    He was handed a brilliant story with rich compelling characters and couldn't even manage to make a good enough movie to get the shows fans to watch it. It is like he took every single bad idea he could and ran with it while making that movie

  • ||

    I don't know anything about the Last Airbender, but I recall a friend saying that they were pronouncing the main characters name incorrectly the entire movie. If thats true, I could see that one oversight really pissing off a lot of fan boys and tanking the movie (aside from all the other flaws it has).

  • Ben the Duck||

    At this point, is there any perceivable difference between Shyamalan and Uwe Boll...?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Shamalamaman doesn't use video games as a base for his "plots"?

  • Agammamon||

    Uwe Boll made "Postal"? That movie makes up for a multitude of sins. And Boll certainly needs the dispensations.

  • StackOfCoins||

    I actually liked Unbreakable, but then I am a big fan of Willis and Jackson and the genre. Signs is when he dropped the ball, and just kept dropping it harder with each successive movie.

  • MattJ||

    Not since John Travolta kicked the tires on Battlefield Earth and pronounced it good to go has there been a big-name sci-fi flameout quite as disastrous as Will Smith’s After Earth

    That's a lot to live down to.

  • ||

    Also an interesting comparison, given the "After Earth is Will Smith's Scientology movie" theories kicking around the tubes

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    I'll believe it's a Scientology movie if the climax involves nuclear weapons being detonated inside volcanoes.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    Movie Geek #1: "Hey, have you heard about M Night Shyamalan's next movie? It's called After Earth."

    Movie Geek #2: "Let me guess, the 'twist' at the end is that they were actually ON EARTH THE WHOLE TIME!!!"

    I'm glad that big reveal reportedly happens early in the movie. Wouldn't want to rip off that certain other sci-fi movie too much.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    Oh yeah, and 'Cypher Raige' sounds like a video game character.

  • Ice Nine||

    Sounds like the guy on the other side of the octagon from Kimbo Slice.

  • Brett L||

    See, that's why someone should make Tunnel in the Sky.

  • LarryA||

    Only nobody who had any remote connection to the movie of Starship Troopers. That travesty still burns.

  • JWatts||

    Or Friday or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress...

  • Agammamon||

    "Friday" would be awesome as a big budget not-parody porn.

  • Lord Peter Wimsey||

    Ever get the feeling that most all Sci Fi movies are (in some way) rip offs of old Twilight Zone episodes?

  • LarryA||

    Given the variety of weird and wonderful stories Rod Serling brought to five years of TV, at 30 episodes/year, it's just really difficult to find a base Twilight Zone didn't cover. Storytelling at its finest.

    Today Hollywood is all about "new concepts with proven track records." The stories are tacked on by committee.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    water tanks full of deadly piranhas.

    As if there is any other kind of piranha.

  • Raven Nation||

    Quaker piranhas?

  • Xilano||

    There are no "deadly" piranhas.

  • ||

    To be fair, Will Smith was excellent in this morning's Friday Funny.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    the 'twist' at the end is that they were actually ON EARTH THE WHOLE TIME!!!

    You MANIACS!!!!!!!

  • ||

    It's truly baffling how that loser still gets funding for his atrocities.

  • JWS||

    I like most of MKS's movies or, at least, I want to like them.
    It seems to me that he has a way of setting up all these great characters (not God-like great but rich and thoughtful great) but then loses them in some kind of "wait for the hook" style of story.

    I thought Willis did a great job with the middle aged "WTF is wrong with my life" guy in Unbreakable but MKS just couldn't seem to make the rest of the movie great. Same with Giamatti in Lady in the water, Hurt in The Village, and Gibson in Signs. These are deep characters represented by great actors but they're let down by MKS.

  • ||

    Sorry, Will, you're over. How long did you think you could keep making the same movie over and over?

  • Robert||

    The value of simulated magic on screen is having it as a plot point because the audience gets what observers in the story don't. Even better is when only some in the audience get it. I saw a lot of that on Lost, especially because I knew Damon Lindelof from a young age and knew he liked magic, so I "got" that characters were doing magic tricks where the rest of the audience didn't. I'm still hoping he wraps up the story so that all makes sense, the false ending notwithstanding.

  • Killazontherun||

    I've enjoyed almost every interview with him I've come across. Perhaps correct that awful series finale with a comic book series the way Buffy the Vampire Slayer has continued into more seasons.

  • Agammamon||

    "And while the presence of director M. Night Shyamalan might once have promised saving grace. . ."

    When was Shyamalan *ever* a saving grace?

    As far as I can tell he's only ever made two good ones and the one I saw "Unbreakable" was an hour and a half of mostly boredom that was only made good by the ending which cast the previous parts in a new light.

    "Signs", the other one I saw, was complete garbage and outside of the "sixth Sense" I've never heard anyone say anything good about his other movies.

  • bambambabby||

    My feelings on the After Earth reviews: I don't believe the press or the critics on this one. They know this movie was set to be one of the summers blockbusters and they are trying to make it fail. I saw the trailer and it was amazing. I want to see it

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