High frame rate feature undercut by subpar writing.
Director Ang Lee’s success has in part been in blending cutting-edge filmmaking techniques with well-written narratives. The best of his hybrids include 2012’s wonderful “Life of Pi,” for which he won the Oscar for best director, and 2001’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which netted four Oscars including best foreign language film. Lee is a mega-talented guy. That’s why the derivative and frankly laughable “Gemini Man” is so surprising. Given the lackluster response to his last feature, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” is it time to declare that the once lauded master is in decline? I sincerely hope not.
It’s almost not worth a paragraph to introduce the story told by three screenwriters in “Gemini Man.” But as a means of providing a measure of context here’s what you need to know: Will Smith plays a 51 year-old government sniper named Henry Brogan. We meet him in the film’s opening sequence where he calmly takes out, from a great distance, a terrorist on a speeding train. There’s no one better with a rifle, and given his age, his superiors have begun to worry about the void left when he retires. And retire he does, but not before learning some disturbing top secret information about his last mark. To close the loop, his boss Janet Lassiter (Linda Emond) and a shadowy military figure named Clay Verris (Clive Owen) decide to take Henry out. Naturally, Henry is hard to kill, and he escapes, leaving a stack of bodies and taking with him another agent named Danny Zaharweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The worldwide chase is on.
Okay, we’ve seen this kind of film too many times to count. But Ang Lee has what he hopes is an ace up his sleeve: de-aging animation techniques that will pit the present old Will Smith against a younger, faster, more-deadly version of himself. And due to an incessant advertising campaign, with featurettes devoted to the technology, most viewers will not be surprised by the appearance of a 23 year-old Smith. And once that little secret is out, there’s really not much to recommend here.
Sure, there’s one decent action sequence in which the Smiths race through the streets of Budapest on motorcycles. And once the older man is kicked off his bike, the younger copy uses his bike to attack his original with a mixed bag success. It’s entertaining as far as that goes, but surrounding this well-paced and mounted sequence is a clunky and unintentionally funny story that’s laced with false sentiment. Co-screenwriter Billy Ray, man, you’ve got to be kidding me! Three writers were apparently not enough to deliver a coherent film.
But it’s the effects that matter, right? Apparently trusting his writing team with the story, Lee must have focused almost entirely on capturing the images. And that hard work is all wasted, because it is doubtful that “Gemini Man” will ever be widely projected in the intended format of 4K resolution at 120 frames per second in 3D. I can tell you that seeing the movie in 2D, 24 frames was disappointing, regardless of the problematic script. Maybe it was the projection, but the image I saw was a bit desaturated and light blue, as though I watched the film from the side of a LED home television. This may have to do with the effects and original format, but it was off-putting to me. It also gave the film blah visuals, where a gritty look might have conveyed a better mood (see the crunchy look of the “John Wick” films, for example).
Poorly written and conceived, Ang Lee is a filmmaker with all the toys but nowhere to show off all his great technical expertise.