It’s two Will Smiths for the price of one in Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, a clunky and dated would-be action thriller with a tired premise and even more exhausting execution.
Pushing the current film trend of digitally “de-aging” actors to its breaking point, Lee continues his trajectory of foisting cutting-edge technology upon stories that don’t merit the slick upgrades in the first place.
He’s proven with films like The Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain that he doesn’t need 4K resolution or high frame rate presentation to tell a great story. It all starts with a well-crafted screenplay. But here, all the high-tech bells and whistles can’t disguise the terrible dialogue and exposition on the page.
Smith stars as Henry Brogan, an esteemed assassin on his way to retirement after 25 years of service for the DIA. His final hit, carried out against a terrorist traveling on a bullet train, is called into question when one of Brogan’s inside contacts informs him that the man was actually a civilian biochemist. Shortly after, Brogan discovers he’s being surveilled by a fellow agent named Dani (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and after DIA soldiers descend upon their location, the two make a run for it. The man behind the mission to take out Brogan is Clay Varris (Clive Owen), the leader of a black ops unit who used Brogan’s DNA to create a copy of him and has sent the clone to take him out.
To create the idea of a younger-looking Will Smith, Lee uses a combination of motion capture from Smith’s performance along with the increasingly prevalent de-aging effect to composite a new character. As far as we’ve come with technology, the results of this experiment still aren’t entirely convincing.
In most of the action scenes, especially the characters’ first bike-bound confrontation in Colombia, Junior (the name for Brogan’s clone) often moves with a weightless artificiality that rarely feels credible. Most of Junior’s scenes are shot either at night or in dimly-lit rooms, for reasons that become devastatingly obvious when a scene late in the film set in broad daylight reveals just how dismal the de-aging effect can look.
No amount of cosmetic retouching can hide the fact that this script, which has allegedly been kicked around Hollywood since the late ’90s, is simply abysmal from start to finish.
The dialogue, which includes yikes-inducing lines like, “It’s not gun time, it’s coffee time” and “I’m finding myself avoiding mirrors recently,” is wall-to-wall tin-eared. It’s the kind of shoddy screenplay that sets up a character’s bee allergy so blatantly from the onset that we have to assume a payoff is coming later on, though “payoff” is perhaps much too generous.
Smith does what he can to pack maximum gravitas into his mirthless mercenary, but it’s ultimately the same kind of stilted dramatic performance we’ve seen from him on multiple occasions. Like his work in recent clunkers like Collateral Beauty and Bright, he loads the characters from his dramatic work with an irrevocable joylessness so as to garner respect from audiences and fellow actors alike.
I was no fan of the Aladdin remake from earlier this year, but it was at least good to watch Smith have fun — and, heaven forbid, smile — on screen again. Gemini Man should serve as a reminder that it’s best for some movie ideas to stay buried.
Coming to theaters this weekend
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, starring Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning, once again follows the Sleeping Beauty antagonist as her goddaughter Princess Aurora is proposed to by Prince Phillip, sparking a war between humans and fairies.
Zombieland: Double Tap, starring Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, brings back the band of misfit zombie fighters as they meet new survivors of the apocalypse while squaring off against an evolved threat.
As part of Fright Night, Cinema Center will be screening 1989’s Pet Sematary. Local artists will be in attendance to re-create iconic movie posters for sale. Those who dress up in zombie garb will receive a $10 ticket and a complimentary small popcorn.