Team up with us for 99¢
After Earth

Will Smith, left, and Jaden Smith in a scene from "After Earth." (AP Photo/Sony, Columbia Pictures)

While you’re sipping your morning coffee and reading the news about “After Earth,” studio executives on several continents are in a panic. They knew it was risky to let M. Night Shyamalan rise from the wreckage of “The Last Airbender.” They watched the woeful footage of his new movie and hoped they could salvage this summer release in the editing room.

Then preview audiences got a whiff of it and the first reviews rolled in. Now job-imperiled publicists are begging Will Smith to smile for the cameras and lift the project with his personal magnetism.

Maybe someone should have thought of that sooner.

In this sci-fi fiasco, the rapper-turned-actor who once reigned as the world’s biggest movie star doesn’t crack any jokes or jaws. He spends most the movie incapacitated, leaving the lame action sequences to his dramatically challenged son, Jaden.

The younger Smith plays Kitai Raige, an army cadet descended from earthlings who fled their ecologically devastated planet 1,000 years earlier. After a millennium on a rock called Nova Prime, the humans dress like extras in a cheap “Star Trek” episode and talk like Elmer Fudd. Kitai’s father, the aptly named Cypher, is a no-nonsense general in the army who allows his son to tag along on an interplanetary training mission. The teaching tool locked in the cargo compartment is an alien lifeform that can smell human fear.

Inexplicably, the ship crash-lands on Earth, where the crew is killed, the alien is unleashed and the general suffers two broken legs. To send for help, the cowardly cadet must hike the yellow brick road across 100 kilometers of not-very-scenic wilderness to reach a jettisoned homing device. As Kitai evades zoo-animal species that somehow survived the global apocalypse, Cypher communicates step-by-step directions and fortune-cookie messages about character development.

That’s more than we can say about Shyamalan, whose grasp of film fundamentals is so tenuous that this hot-air balloon gets blown into the rarefied air of the worst movies ever made. The director of “The Sixth Sense” used to be known for his surprise endings, but the only twist that could explain this mind-numbing nonsense is if we awakened to discover we’d been imprisoned in pods and subjected to a sequel called “After Battlefield Earth” by L. Ron Shyamalan.

Surprise — this bad dream is for real.

What “After Earth” • One star out of four • Rating PG-13 • Run time 1:40 • Content Sci-fi action and some disturbing images

Joe Williams is the film critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.