I have no particular problem with a movie existing as a showcase for digital de-aging technology. But maybe pick an actor who doesn’t already look perpetually youthful?
“Gemini Man” casts Will Smith as 51-year-old professional assassin Henry Brogan. He’s preparing to retire, because that’s what professional assassins do in movies.
Another hitman is sent to eliminate him, and guess what: the new guy is Brogan’s youthful clone. Obviously, Will Smith plays both roles, with a complete digital makeover as the clone.
It works, although there’s still something weird about the effect — sure enough, the young assassin looks like Fresh Prince-era Will Smith, but somehow with Botox added to make him inexpressive.
“Gemini Man” seems to come from director Ang Lee’s desire to keep tinkering with tech. Having copped his second Oscar for directing the computer-generated doodads of “Life of Pi,” Lee subsequently took a fling at shooting in a super-high frame-rate, with “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which almost nobody saw in its intended format.
Lee is back with that frame-rate experiment (it’s 120 frames a second, instead of the usual 24), a technique that makes things look realer, sometimes referred to as the soap-opera effect. At least I’m guessing that’s what it looks like; I didn’t see it that way, and given the number of theaters that can project this technology, you probably won’t either (no local theaters are currently booked to show Lee’s version).
There is a story underneath all this gimmickry, although Lee doesn’t seem terribly interested in it. Brogan goes on the run, using his Liam Neeson-level survival skills, accompanied by a spy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and an old pal (Benedict Wong).
The bad guy is played by Clive Owen, with a gnarly American accent. The character is stock, although Owen gets one dandy speech about his motivations for creating an army of clones — he has the classic ends-justify-the-means rationale of an evil mastermind.
“Gemini Man” tries to get into ideas, including the family feeling Brogan has about his chip off the old block. There’s also a stab at suggesting Brogan’s existential angst from living a life of assassination.
I can’t think of a less appropriate actor to carry that kind of angst than Will Smith. He’s been a capable and delightful leading man for years, but Smith isn’t really one to brood. His dialogue about searching his soul comes off like a screenwriter’s shortcut to gravity.
The chase scenes are well-handled, and Winstead (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) makes an authentically plucky partner in espionage (but not in romance; this is, refreshingly, a professional relationship built on mutual respect).
Lee has an eye for location, so the action scenes scene in Lieges, Belgium, and Cartagena, Columbia, have lots of color. In general the movie breezes along in a painless way, although a final sequence is a cringe-worthy coda that will provoke a great deal of audience eye-rolling.
In his previous career, the Ang Lee of “Eat Drink Man Woman” and “Brokeback Mountain” seemed like the last filmmaker who would get obsessed with tech. I would love to see him return to the human factor, at whatever frame rate works best.
“Gemini Man” (2 stars)
Will Smith plays a middle-aged professional assassin and his youthful clone, the latter courtesy of director Ang Lee’s interest in digital de-aging technology. The movie’s action scenes are well-handled, and Smith has good chemistry with fellow agent Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but Lee seems less interested in the story than the digital toy box. With Clive Owen.
Rating: PG-13, for violence
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