Will Smith doubles down, but can't save the stale thriller Gemini Man
Will Smith’s Henry Brogan is that singular movie creation, the kind-hearted assassin: He has 72 confirmed kills and can shoot a man in the neck on a speeding train from two kilometers out, but he also likes to putter around the house, lovingly tending to his bird feeders and bonsai trees.
Except the gist of Gemini Man is that Henry’s not singular at all; there’s another, younger him — a clone created in a lab by his former friend and fellow soldier Clay Verris (Clive Owen) — who has been unleashed, on the eve of his retirement, to take him out.
It’s a solid enough idea to hang a story on (in fact, 2012’s time-travel-twisted Looper sort of already did), and one nearly swimming in marquee names: Oscar winner Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi) directs; Game of Thrones creator David Benioff, who co-penned the screenplay, has enough Emmys to fill a bathtub; and Smith, at 51, is still very much a movie star.
Somehow though, the film registers as a strange, airless whiff — stale, inert, and oddly melancholy. The script rarely rises above the schematics of a thousand thrillers that languish on late-night cable, and the almost willfully cliché dialogue sounds as if it’s been generated by some kind of free-with-purchase screenwriting app.
Were it not for the strenuously modern (and genuinely impressive) technology that de-ages Smith to play himself at 23, little else would indicate that Gemini did not, in fact, originate somewhere in the dregs of ‘90s Cinemax. His “Junior” is smooth-skinned and full-lipped, a paragon of youth with a high-top fade so flawless it feels like a kind of meta tribute to the Artist Formerly Known as the Fresh Prince.
If there’s a thrill here, it’s not in the exotic locales — Belgium, Budapest, Cartagena — or the seemingly endless, stolidly choreographed fight scenes. It’s in seeing a face we’ve watched for three decades return to itself unblemished by time and life experience, a doubling as intriguing as it is unsettling.
Other actors come and go — most notably Fargo’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has the grounded intelligence to actually seem like a plausible government agent, and not merely a decorative female handed a gun. Owen, as the requisite mad-scientist villain, is mostly left to say ominous Dr. Evil things, and strain mightily against his own natural British accent.
It’s Smith’s movie, twice over, and you only wish his charm could carry it farther. Instead, Gemini just leaves him looking in a funhouse mirror, and what it reflects back is not nearly enough to care. C–