If you’ve seen the ads for “Gemini Man,” you know it’s an espionage thriller pitting 50ish hitman Will Smith against 20ish hitman Will Smith.
Thanks to the wonders of that cutting-edge, “de-aging” technology, Smith gives two of the worst performances of his career in the same film. Progress!
Sometimes when the digitally smoothed-out Will is on camera, it’s pretty amazing. Other times, the effect is kind of creepy and artificial, as if we’re looking at a slightly more impressive version of a Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum creation.
And at times when the two Wills were fighting in the murk and the dark, I longed for the simpler days of actors playing two characters through the use of split screen and wigs and body doubles.
For all its next-generation technology, and even with the great Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain”) directing, “Gemini Man” is a mind-numbingly unoriginal international spy thriller about a legendary, dark-ops, “best-of-the-best” operative who is branded a rogue agent by his double-crossing superiors and goes on the run while scores of armor-clad assassins try to take him out.
We even get the obligatory scene where the nervous government “suit” tells the anti-hero it’s not too late to put an end to all this, but he’s going to have to come into headquarters.
Memo to the suits: That never works.
“Gemini Man” kicks off with a flashy assassination sequence that defies common sense, even with the realm of this genre. On a hillside in Belgium in the middle of a sunny day, Smith’s Henry Brogan, a combat veteran turned Defense Intelligence Agency hitman-for-the-good-guys, sets up his high-powered rifle, takes aim from about a mile away and eliminates a Russian terrorist on a crowded train, narrowly avoiding hitting a little girl (who is in for years of therapy as it is).
Seems like there would be about a dozen quieter, far less risky ways to take out a terrorist, yes?
That’s it for Henry. After 72 kills, he’s calling it quits and he’s going to retire to his beautiful country spread in Georgia, which is in Georgia because “Gemini Man” is one of the 8 million recent projects to film in Georgia. (Later scenes take us to Colombia and Budapest — and back to Georgia. More tax breaks!)
Within the first 24 hours of Henry’s retirement, he learns a deep dark secret, which means Henry must be eliminated. Just like that, two of Henry’s closest friends have been assassinated, he’s had to take down a half-dozen hit men who swarmed his house, and he’s on the run with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Danny, who had told Henry she was a marine biology grad student but is in fact a fellow DIA operative who been assigned to track Henry but is now a target, just like Henry.
Oh, and by this point we’ve been given some laughingly obvious bits of foreshadowing involving Henry’s deathly allergy to bees, and his deathly fear of drowning. (There’s a lot of “deathly” in all facets of Henry’s world.)
Clive Owen snarls it up like a second-rate Bond villain as the Henry’s former mentor, Clay Verris, who runs some sort of big-budget mercenary operation and has been working for decades on a cloning program in an effort to create an army of super-soldiers. (Where have we heard THAT one before?)
Verris send his “son” Junior, aka Cloned Henry, to assassinate Henry, leading to an ultra fast-frame and yet irritatingly long chase sequence in Colombia involving lots of parkour and green screen and CGI — and present-day Will Smith catching his first glimpse of de-aged Will Smith.
As programmed and trained by Verris, the Junior character is a stone-faced, nearly emotion-free stiff of a killing machine who spits out dialogue with all the emotional inflection of a Series 800 Terminator. Thing is, that doesn’t make Junior much different from the original Henry, who is 51 and has never had a meaningful relationship, never allowed himself to feel anything and has never experienced much of a life outside of killing people.
Gee, it’s almost as if Henry sees his younger self in his younger self. Maybe he can save the kid before the kid kills him.
In the midst of all the Existential Crisis Blabbering and the digital wizardry and chaos delivered at 120 frames per second (or 60 fps, depending on the theater), “Gemini Man” contains arguably more “Let’s pause for a drink!” moments than any movie in recent history. Henry has a can of Coke while his boss has a bottle of Stella. Henry and Danny drink Boilermakers. Let’s have some Budweisers on a yacht! Hungarian coffee! A case of Hoegaarden on an isolated stretch of beach! Another Coke for the boss! And not once, but twice, main characters drink what appear to be ice-free Bloody Marys.
After slogging through this excruciatingly dumb nonsense, which is capped off by a bizarre epilogue on a college campus, I was ready for at least two of the aforementioned beverages.