What's 'Happening' to Will Smith's Once-Golden Career?

It’s been more than three years since we last saw Will Smith up on the big screen.

That’s an eternity for actors in their prime, let alone arguably the biggest movie star on the planet.

Will Smith

Smith was riding a gaudy career streak up until recently. Hits like “Hancock,” “Hitch,” “Men in Black II,” “I, Robot,” “I am Legend” and “Bad Boys II” all proved his box office prowess was no special effect. Perhaps the biggest test of his audience goodwill came with the 2006 smash “The Pursuit of Happyness.” That film couldn’t fall back on car crashes or existing material to draw a crowd. It was all on Smith, and he delivered.

Then along came “Seven Pounds,” and it felt like everything changed for the erstwhile Fresh Prince.

“Seven Pounds,” a tear-jerker about an IRS agent harboring a dark secret, drew some withering reviews and made a fraction of what a typical Smith movie delivers. A short while later, Smith announced he had signed on to make a third “Men in Black” film, the kind of career Hail Mary lesser actors make. “Men in Black” was an out of left field delight, but its sequel felt like a standard money grab.

Why would a major movie star even bother with the franchise anymore?

That wasn’t the most disturbing news attributed to Smith. We recently learned Smith has signed on to star in director M. Night Shyamalan’s next feature, “One Thousand A.E.” It’s a story set in the future, and it lets Smith co-star with his adorable son, Jaden Smith (“The Karate Kid”) remake.

It’s hard to deny a father from wanting to work alongside his son, but why would a movie star of Smith’s status sign up with the director of “The Happening” … and “The Last Airbender” … and “Lady in the Water?”

Big movie stars stay on top for good reason. They pick the best directors to help them stay there. Tom Hanks aligned himself with Ron Howard (“The Da Vinci Code”), Robert Zemeckis (“Cast Away”) and Steven Spielberg (“The Terminal”) after cementing his position as a major box office attraction. It’s the best insurance a movie star can have against career downturns.

Smith should consider the company he keeps – on set – if he wants to stay in the rareified air of the box office elite.

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