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Gemini Man **1/2

It’s visually magnificent, as Smith convincingly plays a younger and older version of himself, but the story lacks heft.

Is it worth $10? Yes

An actor fighting another version of himself on screen has been done before, with Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Double Impact” being the first example that comes to mind. Usually body doubles and creative camera angles provide the illusion, but that’s not the case in “Gemini Man,” director Ang Lee’s (“Life of Pi”) latest in which Will Smith fights a “Fresh Prince”-age version of himself.

Henry (Smith) is a 51 year-old assassin for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). He has 72 confirmed kills, including the one that opens the film, in which he shoots from an adjacent field to kill a man riding in a train moving at 148 mph. To be sure, Henry is an impressive marksman and with no wife and kids, has no strings attached to do his job at the highest level.

Alas, the morality of his duty is getting to Henry, and he wants to retire. He would have, too, if not for an old friend (Douglas Hodge) telling him his last mark was a setup, meaning Henry is now a target of the DIA. For help he has a young female agent named Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and an old friend named Baron (Benedict Wong). He needs the help because DIA honcho Clay Verris (Clive Owen), who oversees the covert “Gemini” program, sends a highly capable 23 year-old clone of Henry named “Junior” to kill his older self.   

Curiously, the filmmakers did not use de-aging technology, like how Kurt Russell appeared as his younger self in “Guardians of the Galaxy 2.” Nor did they use face-replacement, which was how Armie Hammer played both Winklevoss twins in “The Social Network.” Instead, when both Henry and Junior are on screen together, Smith first played Henry opposite a stand-in for Junior. Later, Smith wore a motion-capture suit to play Junior, as the entire character of Junior was created digitally. In essence, Junior was created the same way Gollum was in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The breakthrough, of course, is that Junior looks so real.

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For all its visual splendor, though, “Gemini Man” never makes the stakes feel substantial. The story is thin, there’s not as much action as you’ll expect, and the script struggles in the simplest of ways. For example, lines of dialog that can feel like throwaway information early on can, in smart movies, manifest later in a meaningful way. Thus when Henry tells Danny he’s “deathly allergic to bees” when they first meet, the seed is planted that this could affect Henry (or Junior!) later on. The payoff comes when Junior shoots Henry with bee venom, then uses an EpiPen to save him. It’s as anticlimactic as it gets.

Like he does in so many of his films, Lee includes a moral ambiguity in “Gemini Man” that provides good fodder for conversation afterward. On that basis, and its visual accomplishments, it warrants a moderate recommendation.

Did you know?
Lee said: “Junior is twice as expensive as Will Smith.” Given that Smith is still one of the top money earners in Hollywood, this suggests it’s not economically feasible (yet) for this type of technology to be commonplace.

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