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It’s Smith vs. Smith...and a feeble script

Will Smith in “Gemini Man”.
October 16, 2019 12:06 pm

Ang Lee likes to work with cutting-edge cinematic technology. He is also an inveterate experimenter in commercial-movie forms. Unfortunately, Lee’s tedious, forgettable new movie, “Gemini Man,” is the wrong type of film for experimentation.

In “Gemini Man,” Lee deploys extra-high frame rate 3D digital film, which he used in “The Life of Pi” to seamlessly place a digitally painted tiger into a small boat with the young hero. It was also used in this summer’s “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” to place live actors and huge monsters in the same shot.

There is a downside to this 120-frames-per-second technology. Modern 3D process work can leave wide-screen images muddy or blurry; the high-frame rate process adds a remarkable amount of detail and a much brighter clarity to what we see. But it also makes the actors seem to move more slowly on the screen while the brightness can make the images strangely inert and enervated.

Both effects are visible in “Gemini Man,” which is additionally burdened by a thinly constructed script, indifferent direction and mostly connect-the-dots performances.

Will Smith stars as Henry Brogan, a 51-year-old military assassin who’s losing a bit off his aim and wants to settle down in retirement. His plans to relax and go fishing are shattered when he becomes the target of his own bosses who want him dead because they think he knows too much about a secret government project.

The assassin they send after Brogan is...wait for it!...Brogan, only a younger, more highly skilled version. It’s Smith vs. Smith, the hunter and the hunted played by the same actor, face-to-face with his 23-year-old clone, created by the same digital de-ageing technology that shaved years off Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury in “Avengers: Endgame.”

Smith has been shouldering this kind of hokum since “Independence Day” (1996) and, to be fair, he projects the same sincerity and drive to entertain here, but no actor can convey enough charm to deliver reheated James Bond wisecracks like “It’s not gun time, it’s coffee time.” He keeps the emotional connections real enough to translate well to his younger self. However, the younger Brogan (who is called “Junior”), looks more convincing in the shadows than he does in broad daylight.

Lee attempts to hold the viewer’s interest with some bold camera work. He makes the most of shattering windows and the fight scenes are choreographed in tight close-ups without losing focus. The highlight is a thrilling motorcycle chase through the streets of Bogota, Colombia, where the vehicles are used as weapons.

Yet there is no getting around the abysmal sequences like the one where Brogan’s partner (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has to subject herself to a totally gratuitous strip search, or where Brogan Junior, in a scene that leads nowhere, shoots his older self with bee venom to elicit a near-fatal allergic reaction.

Lee has plenty of technology at his command, but “Gemini Man” is too flimsy and superficial to support it.