Picking up where we left off: having tracked the steady descent in quality through the filmography of M. Night Shyamalan, it felt like it would be a good idea to revisit the man now that the weekend is over, and we've all had a chance to see his latest, After Earth. Though, based on its shockingly anemic box-office take, I'm guessing that most of you did not take that chance.
Good for you, because I did see the film, and wow, was it ever the wrong decision. Happily it does, as reported, reverse the plunging downward trend of his career: it's better across the board than The Last Airbender. But it still very clearly isn't a good movie and in one particularly respect it sharpens what might be the most disappointing element of Shyamalan's fall.
Looking all the way back to 1999's The Sixth Sense, one of the things that still impresses the most is the excellent central performance the director pulled out of 10-year-old Haley Joel Osment. Three years later, Signs had solid, if not quite as great work from Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin. But After Earth is now the second film in a row where Shyamalan is working with a child actor in the lead role, and it's the second time in a row where that child's performance is abysmal: Jaden Smith's turn as the sci-fi hero of this new film is stilted and painfully one-note, with a one-size-fits-all expression of dull surprise, sometimes paired with a watery grin to connote "excitement".
Topped off with the unimpressive visuals and the film's slack narrative development - the way that the ending comes feels less like a conclusion and more like the camera got bored and decided to wander away from the story - and it's hard to see what Shyamalan brings to the table that anybody who knew how to yell "action" couldn't have supplied. Is it time to declare Shyamalan's career over?