“After Earth”
 I guess if you’re the famous celebrity couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, and you have a son, Jaden, who is a budding movie star in his own right, the temptation is absolutely irresistible to make movies for him where he goes through many trials and tribulations, but winds up succeeding through resourcefulness and sheer determination. We’ve already done this with the re-make of “The Karate Kid” three years ago.  Now, we do the same thing in “After Earth,” a post-apocalyptic sci-fi that tries to feed the viewer with suspense and clever imagery, but since we all know the kid’s going to survive before we ever begin, there’s really no suspense.  So we’re just left with the CGI tricks, and way too much reliance on the two main characters, played by Will Smith and his son, Jaden.  So much so that their character names are not even important or memorable, so I won’t bother with them, either.
 It’s the future.  It seems that between our pollution and our wars, we’ve managed to make our own planet uninhabitable, and naturally have sought refuge elsewhere.  But monster-aliens disrupted those plans, and the dreaded Ursa still stalk the humans.  Will Smith plays the part of a General in the Starfleet, and his son is a cadet-in-training,  not-quite-ready-to-be-a-real-Ranger.  So Will is playing the heavy, and Jaden the frustrated wannabe.  What was supposed to be a quick errand-mission to another planet goes awry when they hit an asteroid shower and have to crash-land on….planet Earth, now re-constituting itself into a habitat most unfriendly to humans (despite Genesis 2, or Psalm 8).
 In the resulting crash, the rest of the crew perishes, Will is hurt badly, and so it’s left to Jaden to trek the unfriendly wilderness to recover the signal beacon that will finally bring help.  Will, delirious, keeps flashing back to gentle scenes with his loving wife, while Jaden, desperate, keeps flashing back to the frightening loss of his older sister to the dreaded Ursa.  She died trying to protect him, and now he’s the target.  Ironically, his Dad seems to have written the training manual on how to slay the Ursa, the gist of which seems to be to pretend you’re invisible to them, don’t be afraid, and you can sneak up on them and knife them. 
 OK, we get it, the moral to the story is “Never Give Up.”  We just wish there were more to the story.  The spooky influence of Director M. Night Shyamalan is especially evident in the one dream sequence where Jaden is visited by the spirit of his dead sister, who is at first casual, then soothing, then scarily insistent, complete with frightfully mangled countenance. That part felt more like a horror movie.  Otherwise, it’s just a straight adventure story, that could have taken place in the Old West as a tenderhearted family film, but is instead lent the trappings of futuristic sci-fi.  Or, if you would prefer, it’s a space-age Pinocchio, who our immature hero, through self-reliance and perseverance, and an other-worldly visitation from his “blue fairy” sister, transforms into a “real” Ranger, and saves his Dad besides. With our without Jiminy Cricket.  Whatever.  Either way, the result is the same:  though “After Earth” is stylish, it’s more flash than substance, and more predictability than suspense.  Worst of all, it forgets to be charming.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas