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Battle of Wills – ‘Gemini Man’

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Anyone who’s paying attention realizes that we’re moving into a post-movie star realm of cinematic entertainment. The vast majority of movies are IP-driven – the franchise matters more than the star. It’s the classic Johnny Bravo conundrum writ large – it’s all about who fits the costume, and with the current state of CGI … anyone can fit the costume.

There are a few leftovers from previous eras who are still hanging around to some extent – your Cruises, your Pitts, those sorts – and a couple of new guys (well, just one if we’re being real – congrats, The Rock!), but that’s about it.

Will Smith is one of the holdovers, someone who has been using raw charisma to dominate the big screen for going on a quarter-century. He is one of the scant handful of people out there to whom the descriptor “movie star” can still be applied, despite a … let’s just call it a questionable body of work. But hey – he’s still a movie star, right? And what could be better than a blockbuster movie featuring Movie Star Will Smith?

How about TWO Will Smiths?

That’s what you get with “Gemini Man,” a sci-fi clone thriller featuring Will Smith doing battle against a digitally-deaged Will Smith. Adding to the fun is the fact that the film is directed by Ang Lee, who has plenty of Hollywood juice of his own; Lee continues his embrace of bleeding edge cinematic tech as well (rumor has it that Lee is so far ahead of the curve that there’s literally not a single movie theater in the United States capable of showing the film exactly as intended).

And with all that … you get a ho-hum movie. “Gemini Man” tries to use the charisma of its star and the innovative nature of its filmmaker’s technology and techniques to push past the film’s shortcomings, but instead, we get a lackluster performance from Will Smith(s) and an aesthetic that often reads more mid-tier video game than top-tier Hollywood blockbuster.

Henry Brogan (Smith) is an elite assassin, the sort of dude hired by shadowy government agencies to make impossible hits on very bad people who, for whatever reason, need to be taken care of outside official channels. After his latest hit – a totally-not-impossible shot where he hits a Russian terrorist in the neck from two miles away while said terrorist is sitting on a bullet train traveling at 270 KPH – Henry starts to think that maybe he doesn’t want to do this anymore. He tells his handler Del (Ralph Brown, “Final Score”) and heads home to Georgia to spend his days fishing.

But when Henry’s old military buddy Jack (Douglas Hodge, “Joker”) turns up and tells him that maybe this last hit wasn’t exactly what Henry was told, things get complicated (don’t they always?). Henry returns to the dock, where he makes nice with Dani (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “All About Nina”), the woman sent by the government to keep an eye on him.

It isn’t long before Henry becomes the target of numerous assassination attempts, for reasons about which he’s not entirely clear. He takes Dani with him when he escapes, fleeing to an isolated island where he can make contact with Baron (Benedict Wong, “Avengers: Endgame”) – another old military friend – and figure out what’s going on.

Things escalate when Henry’s old commander Clay Verris (Clive Owen, “The Informer”) gets involved; Verris runs a paramilitary contracting firm called Gemini that operates outside the law. Verris sends his best operative to take out Henry and his friends – an operative that just so happens to bear a striking resemblance to Henry himself.

From there, we’re down the rabbit hole as Henry and his friends try to solve the mystery of why people are trying to kill him – and why the main dude looks like a 25-years-younger version of him.

Really, it’s a question we should all be asking ourselves.

“Gemini Man” is a jumbled mess of a movie. The narrative doesn’t make a ton of sense, and even when it does, it’s threadbare at best. And while there are some pretty solid action set pieces – the motorcycle chase/fight is legit – Ang Lee’s experiments with technique result in something that often looks uncomfortably like a video game cutscene rather than something from a nine-figure-budgeted motion picture – not to mention the whole young Will Smith thing. Seriously – it’s like the uncanny valley has an uncanny valley, the Marianas Trench of the uncanny valley.

(This is where I’m going to take a moment to share some of the alternate headlines I came up with for this review. I don’t usually do this, but opportunities like this are rare. “When there’s a Will, there’s a way.” “Will they or won’t they?” “Triumph of the Wills.” “Two Princes.” “Gemini Man, or What, Two Wills?” “Two Smiths are (not) better than one.” And so on and so forth.)

Will Smith is … fine? Old Will Smith is better than Young Will Smith, but it all adds up to just plain OK Will Smith. His undeniable charisma is intact; he’s still easy to watch on screen. But the material lets him down; we don’t get enough of the quippy charm that’s his best feature. Winstead does decent work, but she’s handcuffed by the story. Owen does some nice scenery chewing – he even monologues at one point; it’s one note, but it’s a fun one. Wong’s character is fun, but he feels like he’s from a different movie. Everyone else is varying degrees of meh.

“Gemini Man” is a kind of dull and uninspired action movie. It’s too serious to be silly and too silly to be serious, and no amount of Will Smith (and there’s a lot) or fancy camera tech (and there’s a lot) can fix it. As far as this film’s success is concerned, two Wills make a Won’t.

[1.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 15 October 2019 16:40

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