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Gemini Man Movie Review

Gemini Man (2019) movie poster Gemini Man

Theatrical Release: October 11, 2019 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Ang Lee / Writers: David Benioff, Darren Lemke (story & screenplay); Billy Ray (screenplay)

Cast: Will Smith (Henry Brogan, Junior), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Danny Zakarewski), Clive Owen (Clay Verris), Benedict Wong (Baron), Lind Emond (Janet Lassiter), Douglas Hodge (Jack Willis), Ilia Volok (Yuri Kovacs), E.J. Bonilla (Marino), Björn Freiberg (Keller)


Once a staple of summer cinema, the "Will Smith movie" lately has not had the same luster it carried throughout the '90s and 2000s. The actor has had hits -- Suicide Squad in 2016, Aladdin this year -- but neither of those were "Will Smith movies" first and foremost.
There's also Bright, which supposedly set all kinds of viewing records for Netflix two years ago, though I've yet to meet anyone who actually enjoyed watching it. The last few theatrical releases sold as Smith vehicles -- Focus, Concussion, Collateral Beauty -- all stumbled at the box office and made little to no impact culturally.

Smith puts his personal brand to the test in a huge way with Gemini Man, a film that is decidedly a Smith vehicle (he plays the two most substantial roles in it) and which has the highest theater count of one of those since 2012's Men in Black 3. The lines are usually drawn clearly between Smith's mainstream entertainment and projects that are more tailored to showcasing his considerable dramatic talents. On paper, you couldn't easily tell whether this, a project more than twenty years in development, belongs alongside The Pursuit of Happyness and Ali or if it's more akin to Smith tentpoles of yore, like Hancock and I Am Legend. Gemini Man arrives within the bounds of award season launches and hails from two-time Best Director Academy Award winner Ang Lee.

Having seen the film, though, I can assure you this is neither Ang Lee art nor Will Smith commerce, but a pedestrian and uninspired union of the two that will be forgotten long before ballots are mailed out.

Smith plays Henry Brogan, an unrivaled assassin for a fictitious government agency DIA. An opening sequence illustrates Brogan is the best in the business, as he hits a target on a fast-moving train from kilometers away, killing a criminal that has eluded at least three other agents before him. Brogan is 51, though, and he's ready to retire, tired of daunting work where the difference between success and failure is measured in inches.

Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Henry (Will Smith), and Baron (Benedict Wong) find themselves on the run from deadly agents in Ang Lee's "Gemini Man."

Alas, some people at the DIA don't want Brogan to retire, not after his last job might not have been on the level. Soon, a variety of disposable agents kill his friend and come gunning for him. Brogan escapes and improbably joins forces with Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a DIA agent who Brogan realizes has been surveilling him under the guise of being a grad student and fishing boat rental clerk.

Danny doesn't seem to have any special experience or qualifications, but she is youngish, reasonably attractive, and definitely not involved with the mayhem coming Brogan's way. On the run, the two enlist ace pilot Baron (Benedict Wong), who supplies a means of transportation and avoiding the lethal parties on their tail.

One of the men chasing Brogan stands out to him and to us for bearing a good deal of resemblance to him. It's his 24-year-old clone (Smith, magically de-aged with visual effects), conceived without his consent or knowledge by a top-secret black ops unit led by the nefarious Clayton Varris (Clive Owen).

"Gemini Man" uses performance capture and visual effects to recreate a 1990s era Will Smith for the role of twentysomething clone Junior.

Gemini Man takes about half of its standard two-hour runtime to establish its high concept of Will Smith vs. Will Smith. Instead of simply trying to kill one another, the two arrange for some peaceful negotiation, with Danny a bargaining chip.

Written by "Game of Thrones" co-creator/showrunner David Benioff and Darren Lemke (Shazam!, Goosebumps), who share screenplay credit with Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, Captain Phillips), Gemini Man needs Smith and Lee so much more than they need it. It's puzzling that the accomplished leading man and decorated filmmaker would both agree to make this movie together for any reason other than mutual respect.
The visual effects needed to recreate a mid-'90s Smith are not cheap. The film carries a $138 million production budget, which is quite steep for an original concept not linked to any brand. Smith's star power may be in doubt, but he's still one of the most trusted and well-liked actors out there. His presence here after decades of box office winners indicates some seal of approval this costly B-movie does not deserve.

Lee, who flourished with effects-heavy material in Life of Pi, has enough sense to try to ground this in some kind of clonee-clone father-son relationship. He does not succeed, but at least there is an attempt to make this more than simply action spectacle. That's good because as far as action spectacle goes, this comes up short, its only novelty being the de-aging effects that have been utilized briefly in Marvel films (and go as far back as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). The effects are fairly impressive here. We buy the younger Smith as a human being, not some kind of animated character and that probably speaks to the creative process. On occasion, the illusion does falter, namely in brightly-lit scenes where the two Smiths share the frame. But for the most part, you can buy that you're getting a clean-shaven version of the appealing hyphenate somewhere during the middle to end of his time on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."

Unless your standards for action movies are low, you'll be left craving more than just that state-of-the-art effect. The stock characters played by Winstead and Wong add little and even Smith seems less engaged than he usually is playing a guy whose career has been his entire life.

In the Will Smith tentpoles of the past, you knew they wouldn't exist without Smith carrying a hefty load of heroics. These dual roles feel like they could have just as easily been filled by Keanu Reeves, Dwayne Johnson, or Denzel Washington, or Tom Cruise. (In fact, Cruise is one of eleven movie stars who were once attached to this project when it was being assembled first at Sony, then at Disney. Others include Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Chris O'Donnell, which tells you just how slow to materialize this has been.) That Smith fills the roles instead of anyone else does less to add clout than to cast doubt on his long reliable instincts.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Joker • Abominable
Directed by Ang Lee: Life of Pi | Written by Billy Ray: Captain Phillips • The Hunger Games
Will Smith: Aladdin (2019) • Suicide Squad • Focus • Concussion • Collateral Beauty • Men in Black 3 • Hancock
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World • Sky High | Benedict Wong: Doctor Strange

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Reviewed July 12, 2019.

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