I find it nearly impossible not to stop on old episodes of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” when I come across them while channel surfing. Granted, I don’t channel surf very often because who has time in a world of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and DVR?
But, I digress. I jokingly like to say that I celebrate Will Smith’s entire catalog because growing up I saw a lot of his movies — even “Wild Wild West” — and had his collaborations with DJ Jazzy Jeff on cassette. Go ahead, judge me.
In later years, though, Smith has turned out some questionable choices like “After Earth,” “Bright” or the aforementioned WWW. (Let’s face it: His resume is a bit like a walk of shame after a night spent on a friend’s couch when you can’t find your shoes.)
Nonetheless, I was intrigued when I saw the trailer for “Gemini Man.” It was twice the Will Smith fun!
The film centers on an early 50s assassin named Henry Brogan — IMDB actually labels him as “over-the-hill” — who decides to retire when he realizes killing people for the government is killing him, as well. When a child temporarily enters into his line of fire, he realizes the risks are just too great if he were to miss. He also discovers his last job wasn’t quite what he’d been told. Once he discovers the truth, the government he’d sworn to protect becomes his No. 1 enemy, and he finds himself on the wrong end of an assassin’s scope.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that Smith is forced to take on his younger self, or rather his clone. A nefarious government and military leader has created — and raised — a clone of Brogan. The young man, who goes by Junior, is meant to be everything Brogan is ... and everything he isn’t. While emotions can get in the way of a good kill, his clone has been taught to embrace his fear or anger and use that to help him get the job done.
They’re evenly matched, in a way. Brogan Senior is older and slower, but he’s also got moves Junior’s never seen. And while Junior may be younger and faster, he’s also lacking the experience the elder Brogan has. It’s kind of like the Terminator taking on T2. The newer model can heal quicker and adapt as the fight continues. But, the original has been around the block a time or two and can deal with basically whatever you throw at him.
I’ve heard “Gemini Man” criticized for the lack of action that’s actually in the film. Technically, they’re right. Aside from a firefight near the end of the film, you’ve seen the action in the film’s trailers. There are some pretty savvy moves with a motorcycle and a fight in a dark catacomb between the two Brogans, but there’s really not as much as you’d expect from a film advertised like this one.
What the film lacks in action, though, it makes up for in aesthetics. I was fully prepared to tear apart Baby Will. I’ve seen CGI efforts to de-age be a bit iffy — a la “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which was my first introduction — to results that are pretty darn believable, such as Nick Fury in last year’s “Captain Marvel.” It’s very, very easy for these creations to look rather fake. It’s funny, right? For a couple of hours, we can convince ourselves that Karen Gillan is a blue and purple robot named Nebula (“Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise) or that Chris Evans started out the “Captain America” series as a skinny little pip squeak, but I can’t convince myself that a younger Robert De Niro doesn’t look fake in “The Irishman.” (Also, apologies for being stuck in a Marvel phase there for those who don’t watch comic book movies.)
The problem for me is that often, I think de-aged characters look a bit shiny. Not necessarily plastic-like, but rather just extra shiny. Sometimes, that’s the only thing that I notice that seems off. I noticed a bit of shininess with Baby Will, but honestly, the de-aged Brogan was pretty well done. Even in the scenes where the two Brogans were talking or fighting, the computer-generated effects were laudable.
Unfortunately, the snazzy effects couldn’t really make this movie a must-see. Smith does all right. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a bit of a wasted character, but she’s all right, too. Clive Owen is the dastardly clone creator, but we never really get true villainy or even dastardliness, if that’s a word. Honestly, the only actor that shines in the film is Benedict Wong, who delivers laughs and adds an element of fun to a rather ho-hum movie. Everyone else feels like they’re just reading lines. Well, CGI Junior feels a bit like he’s doing a forensics tournament, with his overly dramatic lines and CGI tears. (Are they CGI if Smith is actually doing a motion-capture thing? I don’t really know. Or care.)
Bottom line: I didn’t hate “Gemini Man.” In fact, I’m pretty certain I liked it better than a lot of critics and folks I know; but at the end of the day, the most is I can is that the film is “all right.” I’m not really sure that’s a ringing endorsement.