“Gemini Man,” a glossy new action-thriller starring Will Smith, feels like a cinematic stew of ideas lifted from other movies. Mix and match “Looper” and “Replicant” with a dash of “Deadpool” and “Unforgiven” and you have a film with that feels like a mild case of déjà vu.
Smith plays highly trained government sniper Henry Brogan. When we first meet him he’s on mission to assassinate a bio-terrorist from a perch two kilometers away. He aims, blasts his target, who happens to be travelling on a train at over 200 KPH, through the neck, completing the job as assigned. It’s a spectacular shot but Brogan doesn’t feel great about it. “There was a girl,” he says, “a beautiful little girl next to him. If I was six inches off…” After 72 confirmed kills he feels it’s time to hang up his guns. “Deep down my soul is hurt,” he says. “I need peace.”
Trouble is, he knows too much. Retiring means he is a loose end and his Defense Intelligence Agency bosses, Clay Verris (Clive Owen) and Janet Lassiter (Linda Emond), don’t like loose ends. He must be controlled or killed. “Mutts like Henry were born to be collateral damage,” Verris sneers. First they send newbie Agent Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to keep an eye on him. When that doesn’t work a hit-squad is dispatched. When Brogan dispatches the squad the international adventure begins.
With Zakarweski and ace pilot Baron (Benedict Wong) in tow, Brogan blows through his air mile points, travelling to Cartagena, Colombia, Budapest, Hungary and Savannah, Georgia. They’re on the run from a new breed of soldier sent by Verris, a weaponized human who makes the mission personal for Brogan.
(ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE, THERE BE UNAVOIDBALE SPOILERS AHEAD) There is no way to discuss the plot of “Gemini Man” without giving away a major plotline. It’s a not a secret but let’s just pretend you didn’t hear it from me: the weaponized human is Brogan’s clone, complete with the skill set but without most of the annoying human traits like fear and pain. Playing the clone is a de-aged Smith and while it is fun to see a cocky, spry version of him on the big screen, the young Smith often looks like a digital echo of the real thing. It’s all fun and games when the two are doing battle in any number of director Ang Lee’s frenetically staged action scenes but when their relationship becomes an emotional mano a mano the limitations of the digital imitation become obvious and distracting.
Shooting in 60 frames per second and in 3D, Lee fills the screen with hyper-realistic images that seem to pop off the screen. Shrapnel cascades into the audience and a gravity defying ninja hop scotches across the screen to great effect but, for my money, the digital imagery treatment doesn’t have the warmth of film. It feels hard-edged and stark, like old-school video tape, which works well in the action scenes—e motorcycle chase in Columbia is breathtaking—but less so in the more intimate moments.
“Gemini Man” will likely garner more attention for its startling look than for its content. An olio of clone and one-last-job movies it feels out of date, like a slick looking relic from the age of direct to DVD action movies.