Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is an aging hitman who can’t look in the mirror anymore. It’s not the fact that his youthful looks have dissolved into the weary look of a 51-year-old killer, but the fact that there’s red on his ledger. He can’t sleep, because all he sees are the dead bodies that fell at his hand.
Raise your hand if you have heard this before. Okay, put those hands down.
Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, which borrows little from the television series of the same name back in the 1970’s, is the epitome of generic filmmaking. Everything about it has been recycled from other movies with less texture and taste. The fresh appeal has been drained, and all you have is an anchor of a film.
David Benioff (most known for angering Game of Thrones fanatics), Billy Ray (an Oscar-nominated scribe), and Darren Lemke wrote the script, but I don’t see one speck of true talent in the story or dialogue. It’s a B-side 80’s action film with little to offer but thrills you’ve noticed before.
Smith’s Brogan may be getting out of the game, but he’s never truly out, right? When he notices a strong resemblance in the killer sent to “retire” him, the aging killer realizes his own clone (named Junior), has been sent by his former mentor (Clive Owen). With the help of a smart young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, wasted here) and the one loyal friend (Benedict Wong), Henry will stop at nothing to turn Junior over to the good side and save his life in the process.
Here’s the thing. The film isn’t boring. A couple of the action scenes do have some energy, and Smith’s engaging presence elevates a couple other sequences-but this is mostly a half-baked frozen pizza of a film. You take one bite and know what is coming. The hand-to-hand fight scenes are so poorly choreographed, sped up to aide the actor’s slow movements. In a post John Wick world, it just looks bad. There’s way too much Matrix Revolutions happening here, and that’s not a good thing.
The acting is remotely alert, and that’s being nice. Smith, pulling double duty here, keeps the film from being unwatchable. Winstead and Wong aren’t given much to do, except look worried, stressed, and worried again. Winstead has a pretty slick early fight scene, but that’s the extent of her impact here.
You can literally see Owen, a very talented actor, signing the back of a paycheck and depositing it into the bank as he works here. He’s reading lines and moving around, but there’s nothing juicy about his bad guy. He’s another merc who disbanded himself from the government, went rogue, got into cloning, and lost his way. Blah, blah, snooze. I wanted better from him.
Lee is an acclaimed director, but he’s a bit inconsistent for my taste, and he likes to spread his talents over multiple genres. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain were monumental films, but some of his films simply wouldn’t download into my system. Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Taking Woodstock, and Life of Pi aren’t bad films, but I didn’t fall for them as hard as others. He is a good filmmaker, which makes his lack of imprint here so hard to understand.
Compared to his resume, Gemini Man looks like an orphaned child who walked into a Thanksgiving dinner. It simply doesn’t belong on Lee’s work sheet, but somehow, he’s behind the finished product. Maybe the chance to work with Smith on something halfway daring was too hard to pass up.
The de-aging work here on Smith when he plays Junior is off-putting on times and just fine during other scenes. I swear there was a scene where Smith’s body was walking and the young face was trying to keep up. A few times during the fights between Henry and Junior, it gets a little confusing. It was done much better in Double Impact, and it wasn’t complicated.
In the end, a lot of talent is wasted here. Smith, Winstead, Wong, and Owen should have produced a better film, especially with Lee, Benioff, and Ray behind it. You wonder what went wrong with such charismatic and adept creators as you watch a film that should qualify as the second choice at your neighborhood Redbox.
Gemini Man could have been a guilty pleasure form of entertainment, but instead, it’s clumsy and wooden. A waste of time for a movie fan. Mediocre if you’re in a real good mood.
A colleague of mine had a good idea: watch Smith in Alex Proyas’ I, Robot instead.