Rated PG-13: Violence and action throughout and brief strong language.
Playing at: Premiere Cinemas, Cinemark’s Tinseltown 17 and Cinemark’s Movies 16.
Credits: Directed by Ang Lee. Screenplay by David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke; from a story by Lemke and Benioff. Cinematography by Dion Beebe. Music by Lorne Balfe. Edited by Jacob Hunt and Tim Squyres. Production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas.
Stars: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Douglas Hodge, Ralph Brown and Linda Emond.
Bill’s rating: Two of five stars
Scan the credits for action film “Gemini Man” and the most alluring factor, for me anyway, is not actor Will Smith. Rather, this is the latest film from often brilliant, Oscar-winning, Taiwanese director Ang Lee.
He is the star.
Yet after weathering this flop, one wonders why Lee ever agreed in the first place to adapt a story born as a concept by writers David Benioff and Darren Lemke back in the 1990s.
True, Lee has been drawn to advanced cinematic thinking. He presented wire work as poetry in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” He never shied away from obvious technology needed by “Hulk” and his more intriguing “Life of Pi.”
But Lee’s best, and certainly more important, films explored the human spirit and loss, examples being “The Ice Storm,” “Sense and Sensibility” and of course “Brokeback Mountain.”
There are a couple dandy action sequences in “Gemini Man.” But bottom line? This is just a gimmick picture, with Lee wrongly assuming “high frame rate” will be the next big thing.
For that matter, the sci-fi concept of a person pursued by his younger self already arrived in more gripping, challenging and entertaining fashion in Rian Johnson’s “Looper” seven years earlier.
Will Smith stars as Henry Brogan, an American contract killer and sniper who is beginning to feel his 51 years after nailing 72 successful kills, many from long distances,
He is content chasing after the peace and quiet of retirement.
Corrupt governmental superiors, however, feel Henry has learned too much. He has become a liability, one who must be killed.
But how? Who do you send to murder the world’s best assassin?
How about a highly trained, 23-year-old version of the same man?
And since Henry is unaware he ever had been cloned, we’re left with trite dialogue: “It’s like he’s in my head. He knows my moves before I make them.”
It is one thing for identities to be confused during fight scenes but, sooner or later, these adversaries will meet and engage in conversation. The film’s low point arrives as cinematographer Dion Beebe must aim his camera over one stand-in’s shoulder to see the older Will Smith, then over a stand-in’s shoulder to see Smith as Junior, then switching back and forth, and back again as dialogue is exchanged.
The now boring technique is as old as any movie with look-alike characters. Even Hayley Mills was filmed in the very same fashion when cast as troublesome twins in Disney’s “The Parent Trap” in 1961.
The difference lies in special effects that reveal today’s Smith and his younger self, familiar ears and all.
Frankly, rather than watch Junior chasing his older and smarter self across two continents, it would have been more fun just enjoying Smith’s earlier work in “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Men In Black.”
Perhaps a better film would have generated more interest in similar film magic. But “Gemini Man” is a badly written action picture that takes on B-movie status, despite Lee’s excellent direction of a motorcycle chase through the winding streets of Cartegena.
To his credit, Lee excels at casting with grace and intelligence. Stars want to work with him.
Sure, Clive Owen is heavy handed as the villain who began cloning in the interest of creating an army of unfeeling soldiers with Henry’s fighting skills. (Who knows, maybe he got the idea from watching “Star Wars.”)
On the other hand, terrific supporting work is delivered by Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a defense agent whose future is blown when she protects Henry and Benedict Wong as a good friend and gifted scrounger.
But special effects are not good enough to carry “Gemini Man.”
Know, too, something close to this same technique will be seen again later this year, when producer-director Martin Scorsese’s likely-to-be-Oscar-nominated epic “The Irishman” arrives.
That film’s numerous stars include Robert De Niro as the title character; he will be introduced in contemporary fashion and also reflecting years he devoted to the military and the mob before playing a role in Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance.
The type of digital creations seen in “Gemini Man” will not cut it in a better written, acted and crafted film.
“Gemini Man,” though, is bound to show up on television streaming services soon enough. Viewers may be less critical when watching it on a smaller screen, although Lee’s shootouts are bound to remain unintentionally laughable.
Gage’s rating: Two-and-one-half of five stars
I’m sure it would be awesome to have a twin, but it would be even cooler to have a clone whom you can use to do all the simple, mundane tasks you don’t want to do.
Then again, what if you were a super assassin and you were cloned? What if those responsible sent your clone to kill you? Well, evidently you would be involved in a movie like “Gemini Man” … a letdown, especially considering it was made by director Ang Lee.
This film might be considered an action wonderland by those who love watching duels aboard motorcycles and chase scenes through winding streets. The movie is centered around its action and, while that is not necessarily a bad thing, the overall story does suffer.
Plus, I never really felt the key character, assassin Henry Brogan, was in any danger of being killed by his much younger clone, Junior. Each is portrayed by Will Smith.
It just seems like Henry, despite having the crud kicked out of him, will continue to pull off ridiculous escapes which would be borderline impossible at age 51.
The story gradually grows boring; it feels like one published about a junior crime detective who needs help solving a murder. Everything feels forced. In fact, it feels they were trying to cram so much action into this movie that too little attention was paid to the more important story.
Honestly, I’m sure Ang Lee wanted to include more challenging plot points, but somehow they kept being lost in all the mess of the action.
Overall acting is decent, at best. Although no one really stinks except for the Bad Guy (played by Clive Owen), no one truly stands out.
Smith plays both assassin Henry Brogan and, courtesy of special effects, his younger clone, Junior. Henry may be OK in one area, then disappoints in another. The same can be said for Junior.
It may sound weird, but I liked Junior introduced as a Terminator-type character. On the other hand, Smith is strongest as Henry after expressing his humanity. This is where Smith excels. He is not as successful when seeking a human aspect within Junior.
Complimenting Smith is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as undercover agent Danny Zakarweski.
Winstead serves no other purpose than providing an unexpected ally; had the film been released in the ‘70s, when the story first written, she likely would have been introduced as a romantic interest.
My favorite character is Baron, a supporting character played with humor by Benedict Wong. He provides comic relief and deserved more screen time.
Owen is just the typical villain, serving no two-fold purpose. The writers try to provide a noble reason for his decision to clone his friend, but it does not work.
“Gemini Man” does include a few fun action sequences and an original conflict, but it is not enough to keep viewers interested and involved.
Lee of course has made great movies. Sadly, this is not one of them. One hopes he gets back on track in the very near future.