Everybody make Will Smith noises: “Pssssssh.” “Nawwwww.” “Why doesn’t he want me, Uncle Phil!?” It’s been ages since I’ve had an opportunity to talk about Will Smith—arguably, the biggest movie star in the world from 1996 to 2010, when he was starring in huge blockbusters and charming audiences with his limited acting ability. Right around 2011, he started making some questionable choices, and his charismatic, almost three-dimensional screen presence was co-opted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who was breathing life into the “Fast & Furious” franchise while Smith was nose-diving into the well for “Men in Black 3.”
Will Smith is one of those interesting entertainers because he’s extremely likable and charismatic, and it rarely appears like he’s acting. It’s the difference between acting and performance. To me, Will Smith represents an entertaining leading man made for flashy, shallow blockbusters. He’s perfect in a movie like “Independence Day” or “Aladdin.” They are films where he gets to play an over-the-top persona who mugs for the camera and can engage in a few emotional outbursts for comedic effect. Every so often he exceeds expectations, like in the kind-of excellent “I Am Legend.” But the typical Will Smith feels more shticky than Strasberg.
On paper “Gemini Man” is exactly that kind of movie: a thriller with a plausible sci-fi premise and some entertaining, implausible action sequences. Will Smith plays Henry Brogan, a gold-star assassin for the government who can shoot a guy in a moving train from 2 kilometers away. When it comes to locomotive homicide, he’s the best in the business. He’s starting to have a crisis of conscience: maybe indiscriminately murdering people for your country and a paycheck isn’t exactly the path to enlightenment. Henry decides to retire, much to the chagrin of his government and the greedy corporations of the military industrial complex that pull the strings.
The man sends the world’s best assassin to kill Henry, and it turns out the world’s best assassin is—gasp!—Henry’s younger, less emotive clone. The clone’s evil daddy (Clive Owen) had collected Henry’s blood and envisioned a world where every soldier would be a Will Smith clone. Will Henry let that happen? Pssssssh. Hell, nawwwwww!
I liked a lot of the framework for “Gemini Man.” The premise is interesting, and there are some fun action scenes and a few inspired moments from its director, Ang Lee. The idea of a guy having to fight his clone isn’t anything new, even in the low-stakes world of the action blockbuster. Jean-Claude Van Damme was fighting himself in “Replicant” and Arnold Schwarzenegger had to deal with a clone of himself in “The Sixth Day.” What “Gemini Man” has in its favor is almost 20 years of superior digital effects, which help create a photo realistic enough vision of 20-year-old Will Smith, making “Gemini Man” the most technically proficient of the man-fights-his-own-clone sub genre.
The technical effects wizards spent millions of dollars creating a young, fully computer-generated character. The producers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. I imagine they spent tens of millions of dollars, but they ended up making a digital replica of a movie star who has a hard enough time being convincing in his own human skin. His digital counterpart feels like Fresh Prince after being dragged through the uncanny valley.
“Gemini Man” isn’t a bad movie; it’s just an unimportant one. It’s perfectly fine entertainment for movie fans wanting something slick and ridiculous. There are some lofty questions raised by the premise that are never successfully explored. The emotional well of the fictional world is puddle deep. Every character is copied and pasted from any Jerry Bruckheimer thriller over the last 30 years. Much like the computer-generated Will Smith featured throughout the movie, “Gemini Man” ends up being something of a skewed spectacle that lacks substance.