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Movie Reviews: What 'After Earth' And 'Kings' Have In Common


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. Two movies open today that at first glance have little in common, the science fiction blockbuster "After Earth" and the suburban indie comedy "Kings of Summer." Leave it to our critic Bob Mondello to find similarities.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Will Smith is playing a general in "After Earth" named Cypher Raige, which tells you all you really need to know about the character, but let's brush in a few details. He's a gruff father and a fearless warrior with a teenage son who's trying desperately to follow in his footsteps 1,000 years after humankind has been forced to leave Earth for another planet.

Happily, humankind still has take your kid to work days. So Cypher's wife Faia urges him to bond with his son Kitai by taking him on a dangerous mission.


SOPHIE OKONEDO: (As Faia) He's reaching for you. He does not need a commanding officer; he needs a father. Now go make some good memories together.

MONDELLO: The dangerous mission becomes much more dangerous when their spaceship crashes on the very planet their ancestors left behind. I'll spare you the details, but dad's legs are broken and there are human-hating critters everywhere. So Kitai's got to man up.


WILL SMITH: (As Cypher Raige) There's an emergency beacon in the tail section of our ship, approximately 100 kilometers from here. We need to retrieve that beacon.

MONDELLO: Now if they'd send the actors on location instead of doing most of the picture digitally with green screens, "After Earth" probably would have cost about 20 bucks to make, mostly just two people, Will Smith sitting incapacitated in a wrecked spaceship communicating electronically with Jaden Smith, as he runs through the woods pursued by sadistic screenwriters.


SMITH: (As Cypher Raige) Control yourself, Cadet.

MONDELLO: OK, by digital critters.


JADEN SMITH: (As Kitai) No, leave him alone.

MONDELLO: Jaden Smith seems like a pleasant 14-year-old, but he's not remotely ready to carry a blockbuster on his own or to deal with a script so silly it even seems to stymie his dad. Seriously, those names, in Japanese Kitai means expectations. Cypher in English means nonentity. And Faia, F-A-I-A, is, I'm going to guess, the acronym for the Florida Association of Insurance Agents?

And riding herd on all this nonsense is "Sixth Sense" director M. Night Shyamalan. Remember when he was known for trick endings and weird twists and then mocked for trick endings and weird twists? Well, he's learned. No surprises in "After Earth," not even one.

The indie flick "Kings of Summer" is a surprise partly because it's so unassuming. It also features a 14-year-old boy who's at odds with a gruff father, boy played Nick Robinson and phone-grabbing dad by Nick Offerman of "Parks & Recreation."



NICK OFFERMAN: (As Frank) Who's this, Patrick?

ERIN MORIARTY: (As Kelly) Kelly.

OFFERMAN: (As Frank) Kelly, a girl. That's a pleasant surprise.

ROBINSON: (As Joe) Dad.

OFFERMAN: (As Frank) Listen, Kelly, Joe can't talk right now because he's grounded. He will call you back sometime before his hot new bedtime of 7:30. You have a good night. My house, my rules. This ends today.

ROBINSON: (As Joe) Yes, it does.

MONDELLO: So, like Kitai, Joe heads out into the wilderness without his dad. A suburban wilderness, let's note, close enough to fast food to be inhabitable by a contemporary teenager and the best buddy he takes with him.


GABRIEL BASSO: (As Patrick) What could you be showing me in the woods right now?

ROBINSON: (As Joe) This is the site of our new house, man.

BASSO: (As Patrick) What, like a treehouse?

ROBINSON: (As Joe) No, like a real house.

MONDELLO: Joe's aim here, like Kitai's, is to prove to the old man that he can take care of himself, and the shack he designs suggests he does have a few survivalist skills. That's less true of Patrick and another goofier kid whose chief contribution to this teen "Family Robinson" is cut and paste kidnapping notes signed, one for each of them, with - I know you think I'm making up the similarities between these two movies - signed with weird names.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) Jamal Colorado(ph).

(As character) Ann Ferney Texas(ph). Deshawn Utah(ph).

MOISES ARIAS: (As Biaggio) Yeah, I decided on the format of Denzel Washington, a black first name followed by a state.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) Yeah, we're not using those.

(As character) OK, Biaggio, good effort, although very poorly planned out and savagely racist.

MONDELLO: "Kings of Summer" is a first feature for both its writer and its director, who without help from studio grownups, have kind of built the movie equivalent of a ramshackle house in the woods. It's not polished, but the adolescent quirks of its teen kings of summer will stick with you long after "After Earth" and the summer fade. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.