Monday Morning Critic – Anatomy Of A Failure: 13 Reasons For After Earth & Will Smith Clearing $27 Million And Becoming The Biggest Flop Of 2013

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This week marks the debut of perhaps the most shallow film of 2013 that hopes that lightning strikes twice again in The Internship. The less said the better, as Travis gave an apt review of it, but the more interesting film to talk about is After Earth. Why?

Because Will Smith just released a bomb into theatres on par with some of the biggest flops of the past two years.

It’s easy to quantify this as a failure; it didn’t clear $30 million between domestic and international grosses in its opening weekend. For Will Smith that’s supposed to be a nice Friday, as opposed to a whole weekend’s grosses worldwide, and right now there’s going to be a plethora of articles about how Will Smith isn’t the biggest star in Hollywood now, et al.

It’s weak and it doesn’t have a ton of evidence; one film doesn’t make a trend. It makes for nice SEO fodder, of course, and my guess is someone will do a Bleacher Report-esque article entitled “10 Actors who’ve failed as hard as Will Smith did this weekend.” That’s hack level work, in my opinion, because it addresses the end result and not all the reasons that contributed to it.

$27 million domestically has an explanation … more like an dissection, really.

After Earth was a failure waiting to happen, of course, and any real prognostications for 2013 could’ve seen this coming. So now it’s time to figure out why it failed, not try and give an early eulogy onto Smith’s career. Smith has made his career out of being successful, though, and probably the film will make the sheer bulk of its money overseas. That’s why he’s become so bankable and why he could talk someone into making a vanity film for him of this magnitude.

It’s time to break down After Earth and it’s shocking collapse this weekend. I could only think of 13 without repeating myself, thusly enjoy.

After Earth

13. No star is immune from a flop – Every major actor of note who’s considered a star has at least one flop on their record. The fact that Smith only has The Legend of Bagger Vance as a certified flop on his record since his arrival as a movie star (back in 1996 with Independence Day when Bill Clinton was President) is absolutely exceptional. Up until After Earth the last film he had that didn’t succeed on insane levels was Seven Pounds, a prestige picture that didn’t find an audience and only cost $55 million (and grossed $168 million worldwide).

12. When you need a blockbuster director you hire a blockbuster director – There are some directors who shouldn’t get $130 million budgets. M. Night Shyamalan is one of them. Making a big effects laden spectacle that places more on big movements instead of little ones requires a director like Rob Cohen. The bigger the budget and the bigger your star the less input you have and why invest so much on a director like M. Night when you’re not going to let him do his thing?

11. After Earth made you appreciate how good Oblivion was – I loved the film when it was in theatres and another big sci-fi adventure film, released within months of it, made you appreciate how good this film actually was. When you walk out of a theatre and hear people go “The Tom Cruise film was better” you know you’ve done wrong.

10. Will Smith’s bad choices have caught up to him – He turned down Django Unchained because Django didn’t kill the bad guy at the end (allegedly). Django would’ve had him use such foul language that it would’ve taken a massive hit to the carefully cultivated image he’s manicured over the years. He may have been making successful choices BUT eventually it all reaches a point. People will stop coming out if you don’t at least give them something better.

9. Jaden Smith isn’t a star … and may never become one – Will Smith seems to be hell bent on turning both of his children into stars no matter if the public accepts them or not. Studios did the same with Tom Hanks, of course, and eventually people caught on but he had talent. He just couldn’t find an audience early on. Jaden Smith isn’t talented and doesn’t have that same presence his dad does. Will Smith is coming off as the ultimate stage mother at this point and people don’t accept his kid as a star just because Smith says so. Eventually actors find a point in their careers where they can’t go any higher; Smith’s has just been artificially accelerated because of who his father is, nothing more.

8. Jaden Smith is also a horrible actor – Has there ever been an actor who’s somehow managed to keep getting higher profile roles despite nearly destroying every film he’s been in? That’s Jaden Smith: Acting cancer. If he wasn’t Will Smith’s kid he’d be doing something else for a living; anytime you make Channing Tatum look like a talented anything in life that isn’t “abdominal muscle model” you’ve failed pretty miserably.

7. Science fiction can draw … but not regularly – Sci-fi is a tough genre to be able to be consistently popular. It’s like fantasy in a way. There’s a core group of genre fans that’ll come out but by and large the genre isn’t a draw in its own right.

6. No female presence at all – One thing Now You See Me and Fast & Furious 6 had in it was at least one good female character. It’s hard to draw a good box office without at least one female character who has more than a bit role and After Earth had maybe five minutes of screen time combined for Zoe Kravitz and Sophie Okonedo.  You can’t just appeal to boys and men anymore and get a big opening; you have to be more inclusive.

5. Nothing compelling in the marketing/trailer – After Earth had a laughably bad trailer and its marketing, publicity and advertising efforts before release didn’t inspire anyone to go crazy to see this film either. That’s ok for a film under the radar but if you’re a $130 million summer tentpole film with the biggest star in Hollywood you can’t rest on your laurels and expect people to come out en masse without provocation.

4. MIB 3 is a better indicator than After Earth About Will Smith – This was a massive, massive film that cost upwards of $100 million or so more than After Earth did and needed an insane foreign box office number in comparison to the domestic number to make its budget back. We don’t want to call a film that made over $170 million domestically as a flop but that was inflated with 3D adding a surcharge onto it.

3. No big, jaw dropping action sequence to market – The one thing that makes a good action film succeed at the box office is the extraordinary. Think about the biggest action films around. Nakatomi Tower exploding was something you needed to see in theatres. Arnold vs. a South American army works better on the big screen. There was never a moment you could hint at in the film’s trailer or marketing about something that felt big enough to want to see on the big screen.

2. Not taking Django Unchained means something – People are sick and tired of seeing the same sort of Will Smith role and film. He hasn’t taken a chance and it was symbolized when people watched Django and one thing kept popping up: Will Smith would’ve owned that role. Sometimes actors get punished in the realm of public perception for the roles they don’t take and Smith’s library of great roles that he didn’t take matters, if only subconsciously. Why give him your money if he’s just going through he motions? Django was the final straw.

1. No one likes seeing someone succeed without putting in some effort – There was a reason why a lot of people’s reviews and thoughts on After Earth were about nepotism. No one wants to reward the kid who was born on third base and scored, thinking he hit a home run. It would be one thing if Jaden Smith were Colin Hanks, who’s succeeded despite his dad being a genuine movie star. But the younger Smith has always had the perception (right or wrong) that he’d never have succeeded without his dad being the biggest star in the world not named Tom Cruise. He never paid his dues and put in the acting reps, like that guy who winds up in a great job despite not being qualified for it because his dad owns the company. Jaden Smith got the part in After Earth because he’s in the lucky sperm club, not because he’s demonstrated any sort of talent. Don’t underestimate people not wanting to buy a ticket to Will Smith’s indulgence on his children.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

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This Week’s DVD – Once I Was a Champion

You ever been stuck in a profession that you can’t escape from because you’ve been doing it so long? That’s what happened to Evan Tanner, or at least that’s what he thought. Tanner was a one-time UFC middleweight champion, during the UFC’s dark days, winding up as a top tier middleweight for most of MMA’s early years. His descent from the top came as the UFC was building momentum; he had the type of personality that would’ve made him a massive star in the Fox Sports era of MMA. Unfortunately he was pushing 40 then, of course, and his abilities had declined from his days on top of the division. But before we saw a pronounced decline as he burned out of the sport on his way out he died in a tragic accident.

Tanner decided to go on a desert adventure and ran out of gas, winding up dying in the desert of dehydration. The film gets his family, friends and various professional associates over the years to discuss his fighting career and his personal life with some candor. That’s the interesting thing about the film.

We don’t get this portrait of Tanner as this person who was wonderful and died too soon, et al. This isn’t With Great Power, which basically turned Stan Lee into this Jesus Christ of comic books when he did a lot of dirty things to a lot of people over the years. Tanner was a drunk who had issues which get discussed by a lot of people in a lot of ways. There’s perspective on it, from his training partners to his ex-fiancée, about his personal issues and problems.

For all his talents as a fighter Tanner was a guy who felt he had gotten in too deep into the combat sports world and couldn’t get out of it. He had spent his entire adult life fighting and there’s a sense that he wished he would’ve never stepped into a ring and fought. That he’d have been happier being a drunk at night and a loyal cable company employee during the day instead of being a famous (for the time) MMA fighter. It’s a complicated portrait of a man whose life was equally so.

Recommended.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

The Internship – Studio executive to Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn: “You guys are insufferable both apart and together. And Wedding Crashers made a lot of money. So why not we do a PG-13 version but with Google footing the bill, guys?”

Skip it – If you laugh at this film’s trailer you deserve to be chemically castrated.

The Purge – Society functions around one night a year in which you can mess stuff up without repercussion. This is that night.

See it – Ethan Hawke has taken a lot of interesting films now that he’s avoiding big studio fare regularly.

Much Ado About Nothing (Limited Release) – Joss Whedon had two weeks to kill during The Avengers. So he decided to make a black and white version of the Shakespeare play with his buddies.

See it – Anytime you can get a cast of the best parts of Whedon’s film and TV library together to make a film because you can … that means it’ll be a train wreck or awesome. Either way it’ll be an interesting watch.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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