Lord save us from Hollywood’s obsession with fathers and their sons. A recent poll I’ve just made up proves that some 40 per cent of mainstream American movies concern the renegotiation of bonds between gruff middle-aged men and their troubled offspring.
You have (not for the first time) to feel a bit sorry for director M Night Shyamalan. Once again, he brings icy panache to this strange, intimate space opera. The landscapes are lovely. The computer-generated creatures, though conspicuously computer-generated, swell and flow with impressive menace. Unfortunately, After Earth is dragged down by, yes, Will Smith's apparent desire to share his boring concerns about parenthood with a blameless audience.
Jaden Smith, the great man's actual son, plays a cadet named Kitai. In an outbreak of drab exposition that recalls the opening scenes of Oblivion, we kick off with the young man explaining various future truths about the death of the earth.
Never mind all that. What you need to know is that Kitai and his dad (Smith Sr, of course) have crash-landed on a hostile version of our planet. While father sits wounded in the remains of the vessel, the boy is forced to venture forth and do something or other before something else happens. Dad must shake off his proud fearlessness while son must gain a degree of confidence. You know how these things go. You’ve seen other American films.
There are some jolting hiccups in the film’s futurology. Why on earth is the poor boy equipped with a spear, rather than, say, one of these nifty ray-gun things? Why does everybody enunciate like Frasier Crane in the next millennium?
Such problems would be easy to ignore if the dialogue was less leaden and the story less flaccid. Imagine a denouement that hangs around the changing of a light bulb in the downstairs lavatory and you'll get some sense of how thrillingly After Earth ends. Will and Jaden could have sorted this out more efficiently by uniting in a few verses of Harry Chapin's Cat's in the Cradle. A pretty waste of time.