Will Smith and Will Smith in Gemini Man (Photo: Paramount)
*1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Ang Lee
STARS Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Employing CGI to de-age actors has been all the rage as of late, but can we call a moratorium on the practice until filmmakers actually get it right? In the Win column, Samuel L. Jackson was convincingly made to look like a younger version of himself in Captain Marvel. In the Lose column, there’s Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy, Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War, Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Carrie Fisher in Rogue One — the list goes on and on and on.
A Draw column should probably be added to incorporate Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, a thriller starring Will Smith alongside a de-aged Will Smith. For much of the film, the CGI is effective enough to push across the notion that there’s a young Will Smith up there on the screen. At other times, the effects are laughable and unconvincing, stirring memories of the Gumby Hulk that Lee foisted upon us with his ill-fated 2003 superhero flick. The subpar CGI is particularly noticeable during the film’s final scenes — theoretically, the last place you would want the worst effects on full display.
The screenplay is even more ragged than the visual effects. Initially conceived by Darren Lemke, the storyline has been bouncing around Hollywood for 22 years, along the way catching the attention of such stars as Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford and Nicolas Cage. The script has been worked over more times than a lesser Muhammad Ali boxing opponent, yet the passage of two decades hasn’t allowed it to mature beyond its promising hook.
Smith stars as Henry Brogan, a government assassin who decides to retire after performing one final hit. But after Brogan is duped into killing a respected scientist rather than the usual scumbag, he elects to found out why. This leads to shady operative Clay Varris (Clive Owen) and Brogan’s government overseer Janet Lassiter (Linda Emond) declaring open season on both Brogan and Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the young field agent assisting him. After Janet’s team fails to terminate them, Clay unleashes his secret weapon: a hitman who looks like a younger version of Henry Brogan.
It’s disheartening to see someone as talented as Lee (a two-time Oscar winner for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi) messing around with something as superficial and nonsensical as Gemini Man. Ironically, the best moments come early, when the film functions as a straightforward espionage thriller. It’s when the character of the young Will Smith (called “Junior” throughout) appears that the movie becomes hackneyed and confused.
The picture is so concerned with moving from one generic action sequence to the next that it never truly takes time to explore the philosophical and moral complications of its premise. Smith adds shades of depth to Brogan, but Junior never comes into focus, always remaining more of a gimmick than an actual character.
Gemini Man won’t leave viewers seeing double as much as it will leave them seeing red.