Attack of the Clones

Will Smith Comes Face-to-face with the Future in the Lame Action Pic ‘Gemini Man’

Don’t look twice, but Ang Lee is at it again. Undeterred by the soft reception of high-frame-rate 3D technology in his turgid drama Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, the two-time Oscar winning director doubles down on that cutting-edge technology for the sleepy action pic Gemini Man. And this time, he adds in de-aging software to make Will Smith turn back into the Fresh Prince.


GEMINI MAN ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by: David Benioff, Billy Ray, Darren Lemke
Starring: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong
Running time: 117 min


 

Think Jason Bourne, but with a clone twist. And a bad script. Forlorn government assassin Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is a relentless former Marine with an unmatched record of 72 kills. After hitting a victim in the neck and not the head, Henry decides that he’s lost his edge and wants to retire at the age of 51 from the not-at-all-shady Defense Intelligence Agency. Problem is, an old vet buddy tells Henry that his last hit job wasn’t a Russian terrorist. He was an innocent molecular biologist. “Your file was spiked,” says Henry’s friend.

The omniscient DIA tracks everything, and they send out a special-ops squad to kill the now-compromised Henry. But he’s too good an agent to neutralize that easily. So not-at-all-shady Clay Varris (Clive Owen), head of a Blackwater-esque outfit called Gemini Global Defense, insists on sending one of his own men. Clay is the type of guy, by the way, who puts antique guns in plexiglass boxes and hangs a Francis Bacon triptych over his desk. His interior decoration screams sophisticated sociopath. And he’s obsessed with para-military perfection. “This is why we need a new breed of soldiers,” he says, not euphemistically. Because he’s literally making a new breed of soldiers. And his favorite recipe involves a 1995 sample of Henry’s DNA.

Cue digital Will Smith. Finally. And that’s really the point of the movie, isn’t it? Gemini Man is a mind-numbing chore to sit through, except for digital Will Smith. He’s kind of wild to witness. On the talk show circuit, Will Smith has claimed that digital Will Smith is 100 percent computer-generated. That seems disingenuous, since there are clearly fight scenes that must have used body doubles and stand-ins. But, yes, in general, digital Will Smith is pretty much fake and pretty much fascinating.

Unlike Scorsese’s famously de-aged cast in The Irishman, digital Will Smith sports a slimmed-down, youthful, age-appropriate body. And watching him walk and talk is like seeing some sort of special-effects milestone, especially at 120 frames per second instead of the usual 24. That difference, by the way, reportedly makes the movie more lifelike, since the extra information creates a smoother, vivid image. But ever since the technology made its debut in Peter Jackson’s janky Hobbit trilogy, people have complained that it makes movies feel like TV. Which it kind of does. TV has always used a slightly higher frame rate, especially with sports.

In a computer in West Philadelphia, born and raised. CGI Will Smith in ‘Gemini Man’.

The real innovation is watching this much CGI wizardry in such an unforgivingly realistic format. There’s no hiding behind soft-focus lenses or artificial blurs. Everything is razor-sharp. And digital Will Smith vacillates between looking totally fake and being breathtakingly real. Also, some of the CGI heavy fight scenes in Gemini Man are downright enthralling. There’s one particular punch-tastic pas-de-deux between Will Smith and digital Will Smith that takes place in a Hungarian catacomb, illuminated only by an assault weapon’s scope-mounted flashlight. It’s a wonder of computer-processing power.

Somewhere under all the action-packed bells and whistles is an underdeveloped drama of identity crisis and dehumanization. You’d think the director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain would know how to thread these two competing genres together. But in the midst of re-creating life, Lee somehow ended up with a lifeless film.

Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. He is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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