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Front Page - Friday, October 18, 2019

‘Gemini Man’ should be twice the movie that it is

Will Smith goes head-to-head against the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in “Gemini Man,” a sci-fi thriller in which Smith plays an aging government assassin who battles a younger clone of himself. You might think doubling the Will Smith in a movie would double its fun, but that’s not the case here.

Perhaps you’ve seen the trailer and are thinking “Gemini Man” looks like a fun, action-packed ride. And it is – the first time Smith’s character, Henry Brogan, encounters his clone.

As the two speed through the narrow streets of Cartagena on motorcycles, director Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Life of Pi”) captures the beautifully choreographed action with fluid, agile camera work. There’s an unbroken shot of Smith bumping along back alley walls and emerging into busy traffic that dropped my jaw, and the stunts are terrific.

The editing also maintains the movement of the characters between shots. If the entire film had been built as well as this chase, I’d be writing a more enthusiastic review.

But too quickly, the Smith brothers get off their bikes and start talking. And once the characters in this film begin conversing, they don’t stop. In fact, most of “Gemini Man” consists of people spewing dull exposition that services a bland, generic story.

There are some good lines in the film. In one scene, Brogan tells his clone he knows he hates cilantro, and the younger man says, “Everybody hates cilantro.” But these lines are few and far between.

In spite of its simple nature, the plot carries Brogan around the globe to pick up crumbs. During one silly stretch, Brogan realizes he knows a Russian crime boss who might have heard something through the grapevine, so he convinces a pilot friend to fly him to Budapest.

Clearly, it’s good to have friends in high places when you’re running from a killer clone.

Despite the lack of imagination in the script, the actors do good work. Smith is his likable, charismatic self, which gives Brogan more than a touch of humanity. Since audiences need to pull for him to survive, that’s important.

And Clive Owen is good as Clay Varris, the director of a secret government program to clone top-tier assassins. His character oozes insincerity, and hidden agendas seep out of his pores, but he knows a thing or two about key people, so he’s free to take the program in morally bankrupt directions and use it for personal gain.

Varris is a stock character, but Owen manages to make him feel like a real person rather than a cardboard cutout.

Unfortunately, these perfectly good performances were unable to elevate the film’s leaden story.

In the end, even the special effects fail to make “Gemini Man” worth seeing. The technology Lee uses to make Smith look younger is fairly solid, and when you see the two of them together, the effect can be uncanny.

But Junior, as Varris calls the younger version of Brogan, never quite looks right. In too many shots, the animation isn’t as natural as it should be, or Junior looks a little small or pasted onto the screen.

Lee also employed computer stunt doubles in several shots, and while the animation isn’t as stiff or cheap as some of the CGI work in the Marvel movies, it’s obvious when the film switches from real Smith to action figure Smith in the same shot.

It also feels like Lee ran out of creative energy by the end. The climactic scene offers none of the excitement and ingenuity of the bike chase and is poorly staged, with Brogan and a fellow agent opening a door and mowing down a half-dozen black ops soldiers who are standing on the other side, firing automatic weapons directly at them.

Tucked between “Joker” and this weekend’s release of the “Maleficent” sequel, “Gemini Man” feels like a missed opportunity. Initially conceived in 1997, it went through 20 years of development hell and several writers and directors before winding up in capable hands. But, alas, Lee and his team were unable to deliver a winner.