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Gemini Man (2019)::rating::3::rating::3

Gemini Man is built on such a dynamite premise that the disappointment hits even deeper when the movie fails to live up to it.  Rarely have I seen something so consistently hit-and-miss:  The special effects look mind-blowing in one scene, and then totally fake in the next.  Dialogue will pop between the characters for a while, only to become awkwardly expositional for maddening stretches.  (You gotta love it when characters recite each other’s resumés for the benefit of the audience.)  The script gives us a taste of the mind-screw that could’ve been, before settling for a conventional, predictable action film.  Gemini Man feels like a 20-foot putt that stops one inch shy of the cup.

Directed by Ang Lee, the movie centers on Henry Brogan (Will Smith), a contract killer for a shadowy government agency.  Like every assassin in every movie, Brogan has a crisis of conscience and wants out of this life.  He pops one last guy and retires.  Of course, this last job wasn’t what it seemed to be, leaving Brogan with nagging suspicions.  He gets caught asking questions to the wrong people, and soon becomes a loose end for the bad guys to tie up.  Cue the Virginia bureaucrat (an underused Clive Owen), who sends a powerful young asset to wipe out Brogan and his associates.  The twist?  New dude is a clone of Brogran, possessed of all his training but half his age.

I remember an old commercial where Michael Jordan, somewhere in his late 30s, goes one-on-one with the CGI version of his younger self.  That one-minute scrimmage sets up a fascinating debate:  Who wins, the dude who’s been everywhere and seen everything?  Or the guy with the quick reflexes and raw power?  This commercial popped in my head, because it hints at what Gemini Man could’ve been.

You see, these two Brogans don’t seem that different from each other.  Their fights end in draws, with both of them panting and exhausted.  Both display extreme strength and agility.  Intellectually, both Brogans are incredibly adaptive.  The filmmakers could’ve and should’ve played up the strengths and emotional weaknesses of the two combatants:  An impetuous and impulsive kid vs. the slow-but-seasoned older man.  By making the two killers so evenly matched, the movie loses some of the impact of its cool premise.

The special effects also don’t do that premise any favors.  Young Will Smith (think Fresh Prince, Season 3) looks convincing in a few scenes, and it’s almost believable.  Yet, there are so many moments where it looks distractingly like CGI.  There’s just something about the emotional nuances of the human face that computers can’t quite capture.  The more they try to mimic the little twitches and blinks, the more fake it looks.  De-aging effects have come a long way, but they still have a ways to go.

Even though so many of its primary objectives fall short, Gemini Man gets a little redeemed by tertiary strengths:  As Brogan’s plucky sidekick, Mary Elizabeth Winstead elevates her role with real humanity and a dry sense of humor.  In fact, her character might be the best thing in the whole movie.  Benedict Wong gets shoehorned in for comic relief, but he still makes the most of it with some decent zings.  I know a lot of people have bagged on the film’s high frame rate (120 fps can make a movie look like something you shot on a 90s camcorder).  There’s also a standard version in theaters, and that’s what I saw.  I thought the cinematography in that one looked great.  The exotic locales give the movie a little James Bond flavor.

I wanted so much to like Gemini Man.  As a sci-fi nerd, it’s right smack in my wheelhouse.  And damned if there weren’t a few moments where I actually got invested in the plot.  Unfortunately, everything good about this movie also serves as a frustrating reminder of everything it could’ve been.

117 min.  PG-13.

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