In Ang Lee's Gemini Man, complicated technology doesn't make up for a poor script

Will Smith in Gemini Man. Picture: Paramount Pictures.
Will Smith in Gemini Man. Picture: Paramount Pictures.

Gemini Man (M)

Two stars

The high-concept idea behind this futuristic action thriller has been around for more than 20 years, with ageing A-list actors from Sean Connery to Mel Gibson attached to play the lead. One of the many issues plaguing development was the challenge of working out how one actor could play a pair of clones with a twenty-year age difference.

Fast forward to 2019 and digital de-ageing technology offers the solution, allowing 51-year-old leading man Will Smith to battle a 23-year-old version of himself. Director Ang Lee adds more technological complexity, shooting the film with an extra-high frame rate and in 3D - the combination intended to provide an eye-popping immersive experience. But whilst there are some heart-pumping action sequences, neither the technology nor the woeful script can save the experience from feeling a little like watching those clips of early flying machines, with plenty of flapping but little elevation.

Smith plays Henry Brogan, a talented government assassin who is hoping to retire after one last mission. When he finds out that the man he has killed is innocent, Brogan is drawn into a deadly internal struggle against Clay Verris (Clive Owen), the man behind the top secret GEMINI initiative. From a supremely well-resourced military facility, Verris creates lethal weaponised soldiers, all available to support his evil desires. With a motley crew of friends including fellow assassin Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and flying ace The Baron (Benedict Wong), Brogan faces not just the physical firepower of GEMINI forces but an existential threat in the form of "Junior"- his 23 year old clone, a young man that Verris has raised as his own son to kill Henry (thanks Dad!).

What's buried under the weight of technology is any sense of authentic emotion - especially from either of Smith's characters.

Added to the ludicrous plot (you'd really spend 23 years training a clone to kill someone?) is some dreadful dialogue, with several writers involved in the screenplay, including David Benioff from Game of Thrones. There's also plenty of pointless globetrotting as the Baron whisks Henry and Danny from Eastern Europe to South America where the set pieces play out in exotic streetscapes packed full of tourists. But it's the technology (at least the 3D, high-frame rate version I watched) that really drags the storytelling down. Far from being cinematic, the experience seems oddly like old-style video, characters placed centre screen to avoid distortion and realised on the screen in hyper-smooth fidelity as if created by a game-engine.

The de-aging process is also distracting and, whilst it's intriguing to see Smith back in his Fresh Prince of Bel Air days, we are still firmly in the uncanny valley, with an inhuman eeriness around the eyes and mouth of the digitally created Junior version of Smith. In a behind the scenes interview, Smith joked that the technology would enable him to get fat and lazy, with Junior playing all his roles from now on. Not yet, Will, not yet.

What's buried under the weight of technology is any sense of authentic emotion - especially from either of Smith's characters. Perhaps this isn't surprising when you realise that - in the many scenes that involve his two characters facing off - Smith had to first play the scene as Henry fighting a stand in lookalike, and then play the scene as Junior with twin cameras strapped to his head, swapping places with his double. You sense that the focus of everyone's attention has been on the process rather than the story.

The fascination of meeting your biological double should have provided Lee - who's made deeply moving films like Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi - with the heart of the story, a riff on mortality and ageing, but he's clearly lost in the technical details. A couple of spectacular fight sequences just don't make up for one too many Smiths.

This story Just one too many Will Smiths first appeared on The Canberra Times.