Don't blame little Jaden Smith. It really isn't his fault. It's easy to giddily accept this lamb of slaughter and and rip it apart. Especially when it's a rich lamb born to a superstar father who has effortlessly placed him in a career path many never achieve, despite their hard work or talent.
All petty jealousy aside, children of nepotism are nothing new and often we come to embrace them graciously (e.g. Michael Douglas, Josh Brolin, Angelina Jolie). It's the way they're introduced that decides whether it's nobility taking their rightful place in royalty or sandpaper being crammed down our throats.
Will Smith seems to have taken a "that's my boy and you'll love him no matter what" approach to bringing his son into the acting profession. Not that it couldn't work. It could even be endearing, but sometimes a quiet, humble intro can be more effective than one done with explosions and special effects.
In a bit of heavy, front-loaded exposition we learn that 3000 years from now mankind has, you guessed it, abused and polluted mother earth to a point where it is uninhabitable for humans. We now survive on a planet called Nova Prime, where we speak in a dialect that's a cross between Southern hospitality and Jamaican. Will Smith is Cypher. Wait, don't roll those eyes yet! He's a special caliber of space ranger called a "ghost." They're named so due to their lack of fear when battling a vicious alien species that can only respond to a human's anxiety. In case you can't understand Jaden Smith's unintelligible narration this is all shown to you through an overblown opening sequence, including Cypher calmly walking in slow mo slicing an alien's throat while others around him panic. You can almost see this as Will saying to young Ja, "Yeah, boy, this might be your story, but I'm still the star."
Cypher returns home and finds his son Kitai (Jaden) longing for his father's approval and love. He takes him on a mission to earth, hoping for a bonding session along the way. They hit an asteroid field causing them to crash land on Earth, killing everyone except the father and son duo. Their only hope of rescue is a far off beacon separated by acres of dangerous forests. Made immobile by a broken leg, Cypher slaps a wrist communicator on Kitai and lets him know it's time to man up. Or, metaphorically, it's Papa Smith telling Jaden it's time to earn his keep. At this point junior Smith must carry the rest of the film burdened by a simplistic obstacle-course plot. He gets attacked by baboons, a bug, a bird, and some mutated mountain lions, which all lead to a final boss battle with one of the big bad aliens daddy used to fight.
Again, it's not Jaden's fault. He's off acting against nonexistent animals while Pop sits back and takes over the role of basically an emotionless, I-could-give-a-s**t narrator. Smith has made a big deal about acting with his son. That's fine - if you ACT WITH YOUR SON. Editing in scenes where you talk to him through a wrist phone doesn't count.
It's frustrating. Especially considering that the idea to make this a big budget sic-fi epic was all Will Smith's. Smith Senior has fallen into the trap most actors and directors succumb to when their whole careers have been built on blockbusters, and this is the inability to scale back. This is a father and son coming of age story. This could have been a modest tale set against a camping trip gone wrong. Too modest? Okay, maybe a jungle or the Outback. Point is, the tenderness of seeing a stern father opening up to his rebellious child is lost against the egotistical need to throw spaceships and monsters our way.
Not to say this isn't admirable in other ways. It's shallow, but some of the action scenes are fun for kids who can handle the intensity. The art direction, on the other hand, is beautiful, the technology taking on a more organic look, appearing almost alien itself.
M. Night Shyamalan comes out the best here, if only for sneaking out the room while most of the criticism is hurled towards Will and Jaden. As usual, most people laughed at the promotions as they tried to guess what twist would await them at the final conclusion of the movie. Many sighed with relief after discovering his duties were only left to directing, even if at times it played to his trademark quiet drama, bordering on tedium. A nice lemon twist wouldn't be so bad now, huh?
As for Will Smith, if a blockbuster is what you're seeking for your son, then skip the pretense. Slap a black suit on him, some shades, and let him play your cute sidekick. See you two in MIB 4.
Review courtesy of our friends at Spill.com.