Given how he can expertly craft beautifully detailed and intimate dramas when he wants, it does a disservice to describe filmmaker Ang Lee as an Asian analog to James Cameron. That said, there’s a similar proselytizing and futurist side to Lee that has drunk a similar kind of kool-aid about the virtues of envelope-pushing technology. Sometimes the two sides of Lee’s preoccupations—humanist drama and technology-driven spectacle— merge (“Life Of Pi,”), though not always successfully (“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk“). And sometimes the temptation to play with new tech toys can entertain but robs the story of the substantive qualities Lee is known for (“Hulk“).
Lee’s latest, the sci-fi-ish actioner “Gemini Man,” starring Will Smith, alongside a younger “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” version of himself, is much more the latter and seemingly a movie drunk on the possibilities of its technology—high frame rates presented in 3D—then it is with basic fundamentals like character, story and something of worth to say.
Moreover, while Lee will evangelize all he wants about high frame rates and the it’s not de-aging technology— a fully-rendered digital model that apparently is masked overtop of its star—the fact of the matter of is “Gemini Man” looks like motion smoothing meets Deep Fakes technology—especially in the laughably visible final sequence (uncanny valley young Will Smith looks impressive in the dark, not so much in broad daylight which is why the face is hidden in most day scenes).
“Gemini Man” is like a Jerry Bruckheimer high concept idea and movie (oh, look at that, he produced it), but directed by Ang Lee and starring Will Smith, both seemingly with good intentions about some of the film’s moral question and father and son notions. But given the ridiculous concept and the shoddy screenplay, the Bruckheimer-ness inherent to the movie definitely overwhelms it. Aside from a few thrilling action sequences, ‘Gemini’ is bland, basic action sci-fi that a lesser filmmaker would likely helm—one imagines Bruckheimer’s resources and the funds to create this new technology was the allure for Lee.
In “Gemini Man,” Henry Brogan (Smith) is an aging government assassin on the path to retirement when suddenly he finds himself face to face with a younger assassin sent to kill him. The twist? It’s a younger clone of himself named Junior (Smith, Deep Fakes version) who knows Brogan’s every move. Following a trail of lies and deceit, Henry begins to uncover the truth behind the creation of his clone, all while fighting a corrupt government and trying to salvage his clone’s humanity in a big brother-esque, father/son dynamic.
Running off of Darren Lemke’s original concept and script from 1997—like something Bruckheimer couldn’t bear to part with from his heyday—“Gemini Man” is incredibly dated wearing it’s ’90s tinge as if it were Leonardo DiCaprio’s hairstyle from “Titanic” in 2019. Making its way through the hands of over five different screenwriters (David Benioff and Billy Ray ultimately credited with the changes), while several authors obviously tried to contemporize the story, it still feels like a screenplay your excited dad wrote over twenty years ago.
Fittingly, and it’s unclear if this is a Will Smith, “I’m 50, we should play with that” concept or what, but “Gemini Man” is rife with cringey dadbod-era jokes about being creaky, old, outdated, etc. Stilted dialogue is everywhere and the film is devoid of the charms present in some of those classic ’90s action movies it clearly shares DNA with. Attempts are made to make commentary on genetic alterations, cloning, and legacy, however, all of is clunky, contrived and tin-eared (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, and Benedict Wong co-star, but they’re all pretty stock characters).
Structurally, “Gemini Man” consists of the occasional action beat strung together by relenting expository dumps. Terribly predictable, an unevenly paced and dreadfully formulaic story makes for something that’s often quite dull.
Given Smith’s involvement, “Gemini Man” feels more like a missed opportunity to explore and reflect upon the actor’s career and prominence in the action genre. Smith naturally exudes his signature charisma and truly gives the material his best effort, but there isn’t much to work with in exploring yet another Jason Bourne-esque assassin and one lacking much of the same inner torment.
Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of “Gemini Man” is Lee’s apathetic approach to directing his actors. Coming from the mastermind behind “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Brokeback Mountain,” and many compelling character dramas, it’s disappointing to see this craftsman so preoccupied with technical advancements and high frame rate. It’s as almost as if, Lee is f*cking around on Bruckheimer’s dime, test-running the technology for something more important down the road. Sure, a couple of sequences of 120-fps and 3D make for exciting video game-esque set pieces—especially true during an explosive motorcycle chase through Colombia.
However, these sequences are often incomprehensible when shot in the dark—the obvious attempt to hide the young Will Smith from looking like a bad Sims—resulting in an experiment that feels largely unnecessary. While de-aging is a neat trick and yes, in some sequences, looks astonishingly good, form certainly overthrows function and substance here.
Packing a promising first act that quickly goes south and and a select few fun action beats, Ang Lee may be a disciple of technology, but if he’s going to trade the potential of meta-commentary on aging, youth, an actor’s legacy and more, for something meant to be slick entertainment, he’s still going to need a more convincing sermon. [C-]