starring Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okenedo, Zoë Kravitz
screenplay by Gary Whitia and M. Night Shyamalan
directed by M. Night Shyamalan
by Angelo Muredda Give M. Night Shyamalan this much: he is not a timid filmmaker. Where some might have responded to the critical drubbing of The Village with a shrug, Shyamalan turned his follow-up, ostensibly a children's story, into a vicious riposte. Lady in the Water isn't just an off-kilter fairytale about an endangered waif who falls out of the sky and into Paul Giamatti's swimming pool: it's also a deranged manifesto for protecting the imaginative freedom of artists like Shyamalan--playing a writer who will one day be martyred for his ideas, collected in a volume modestly titled "The Cookbook"--against critics and nonbelievers, who meet deservedly bad ends. That would be a gutsy move if the artist had something to die for himself, yet the best you could say for Lady in the Water is that at least Bob Balaban's beast-ravaged movie reviewer is spared the finale with a saviour eagle that Shyamalan has the gall to christen "Eaglet." Though nominally a star vehicle for Will Smith and his son Jaden, After Earth covers much the same ground, down to its repetition of both the aquila ex machina trope and half-assed nomenclature. (A double-sided spear is a "cutlass" in the future, while walking stealthily is now "ghosting." No word on what we call spoons or actual cutlasses.) Lady in the Water's world-building by crayon doodles can be explained away easily enough by its bedtime-story mechanics, but there's no excuse for After Earth, a thinly-sketched, unbearably haughty survival story that cites Moby-Dick as it steals from Suzanne Collins.