rating: 2.5Its a bit hard to believe that its been eleven years since Signs, the last good (maybe even great) movie that M. Night Shyamalan made, was released. I have vivid memories of watching that film, especially the closing scenes, where Shyamalan used nothing more than shadows and creaking floorboards to create tension so thick that the entire audience held its breath, fearful and waiting, completely in the palm of his hand. Sitting in the theater watching After Earth, Shyamalan's latest offering, its almost impossible to believe that the two films were made by the same filmmaker. That's not to say After Earth is a horrible film; rather, what it is is disposable, a decently digestible summer adventure that wont offend anyone, but wont amaze them either. There are exciting scenes bookended by misfired attempts at emotion and gravity, gorgeous photography capturing dull performances and laughable screenwriting. Its the cinematic equivalent of canned corn: its fine, but it isnt a meal by any means. Working as a father-son vehicle for Will and Jaden Smith, After Earth takes place 1000 years after humans have abandoned our planet (theres a brief montage at the beginning explaining how we destroyed our own world) to find greener pastures elsewhere in the universe. Of course, we find that our new home is shared with bloodthirsty bug-aliens called Ursas, who apparently exist for no other reason than to give the film a physical antagonist. All of this information is given to us, rather directly, in a poorly paced and even more poorly written first act. Will plays a decorated war hero but largely absent father; Jaden is his son, a rebellious youngster too willing to show off for his father as a would-be junior ranger. To mend their frayed relationship (and to mercifully end the film's first act), the two embark on a trip to a cadet training ground on another planet. Their ship, of course, crashes, and the two find themselves stranded alone as the only survivors on a long abandoned, highly evolved Earth. Will is badly injured, and so Jaden must journey to find a way to save them alone on the dangerous planet, all the while hoping he can prove himself to his father. Will Smith is the star that he is because of his charisma, his charm. He brings so much energy and excitement to the screen that its hard not to enjoy watching him work. Here, however, hes confined to a reserved, mostly immobile role, playing second fiddle to his son. That would all be well and good if Jaden displayed any of the star power that made his father such a box office titan, but he doesnt. His acting ranges anywhere from cardboard to wooden, though less useful (and probably more expensive) than both materials. The film is distinctly better when it doesnt ask him to open his mouth or be too expressive. As for Shyamalans end of the deal, its tough to really judge After Earth against the rest of his work because of how impersonal it feels. When the film is operating at its most primal, giving us man vs. nature in its purest sense, its fairly effective. It might not provide us with anything awe-inspiring, but its entertaining enough on a run, fight, survive level. The film also offers up some truly beautiful visuals and scenery to keep our eyes open. But its inability to connect with us in any emotional or lasting way is what makes the film feel so disposable. For Shyamalan, a director whose major successes (The Sixth Sense, Signs, Unbreakable) all revolved around fractured families, After Earth should fit right into his wheelhouse. But hes unable to create anything lasting here, which may be a sign that hes drifting further and further into obscurity. While The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening were all failures, they were at least his failures. They still felt like Shyamalan films, just not good ones. After Earth fits in closer to the disastrous Last Airbender as a completely commercial, impersonal, and ultimately forgettable film. In trying so desperately to regain his form, Shyamalan may actually be swimming backwards, getting farther and farther away from what hes good at and forgetting how to capitalize on those strengths in the process. It's not a poorly directed film; but it's directed from a distance. There's no personality here. After Earth, then, exists as a sort of vacuum, a self-contained bit of occasional fun that swallows itself up by the time its over. There is no passion here, no beating heart driving what we see on the screen. It is as average as summer blockbusters get, a cookie cutter, cliche-ridden film that can excite and engage a bit in the short term but dissipates the minute we step out of the dark. If this truly is what the future holds, I can only hope I go down with the ship. After Earth is out now in US Cinemas, opening in the UK this Friday.