Starring Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen and Benedict Wong. Written by David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke. Directed by Ang Lee. Opens Friday at theatres everywhere. 117 minutes. PG
Long ago in journalism school, my visual arts prof had some advice. If you’ve got a great story, he said, you just need a single slide projector. If it’s not much of a story, use two slide projectors and a dissolve unit.
“And if you have no story at all,” he concluded, “you need three projectors and two dissolves.”
Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” is a three-projectors-and-two-dissolves movie. It doesn’t have much of a story to tell, and it has a needlessly complicated high-tech way of telling it. Lee and his exuberant producer Jerry Bruckheimer are vainly hoping my prof was right about spectacle making up for lack of substance.
“Gemini Man” is a sci-fi thriller, built around the much-hyped gimmick of Will Smith as a badass assassin battling a badder, younger clone of himself. The “evil twin” trope in movies is such a hoary one it could fill a festival the size of TIFF, but the tech here is relatively novel: a photo-realistic digital version of Smith as he looked in his 20s engages with the Smith of today, age 51.
The digital clone appears convincing enough, especially in a fight scene staged in the catacombs of Budapest, where dim light helps fool the eye. But the clone, called Junior, seems like a cyborg attempting to imitate the agile Will Smith everybody loved in movies such as “Independence Day” and “Bad Boys,” made when Smith really was in his 20s.
“Gemini Man” was shot at a rate of 120 frames per second (traditional film speed is 24 fps) and 4K 3D digital. This gives the film more clarity but less depth. Lee had a similar problem with “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” his previous movie, which also employed high-frame-rate technology. The effect is like watching high-def TV sports rather than a movie, and it’s distracting enough to take us out of the story.
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Not that there’s much of a story to be taken out of. The committee-written script comes across as faux Hitchcock — even the soundtrack tips to it — before turning into just another Bruckheimer brain-blaster.
Lacking all subtlety, workshopped to death over 22 years of development, the film just doesn’t feel like an Ang Lee movie — maybe it was also directed by a clone?
Smith is Henry Brogan, a veteran Special Forces hit man who is about to notch his 72nd kill: a mysterious dude on a high-speed train zooming through Belgium. Brogan has sniper skills that let him take out a target from two kilometres away, but he’s tired of paying the bills with kills.
“My soul is hurt … I just want some peace,” he complains. Grey of temple and heavy of heart, he’s ready to retire.
Brogan’s superiors aren’t pleased with his decision. He finds out just how displeased when he encounters a look-alike version of himself — the aforementioned Junior, who is programmed to kill him and bent on doing so. An exciting motorcycle chase through the streets of Cartagena ensues, although the chase looks about as real as a video game.
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A ruthless military man played by a bored Clive Owen and a shady outfit called Gemini (duh) are behind the plot to erase-and-replace Brogan. It’s all in aid of a grand scheme to create an army of super soldiers, which is proceeding at the same glacial pace as the alien invasion of The X-Files.
Brogan and Junior take far too long to cop what’s going on. Brogan’s companions, played by a game Mary Elizabeth Winstead and an amused Benedict Wong, quickly figure it out.
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This is the kind of movie where the action will suddenly shift to Prague or Colombia for no particular reason (apart from tax credits for the production) and where a Gulfstream jet will magically be made available for the ride, even for a fugitive from the U.S. government.
The man vs. clone conceit fails to say anything of value about what makes people truly human. It’s all vivid nonsense on the screen, with action attempting to cover up the absence of real drama.
But at least we learn what the abbreviation “AMF” stands for, after hearing it used several times. It’s one good laugh in the generally mirthless and pointless exercise in technophilia that is “Gemini Man.”
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