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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Oct 13, 2019

GEMINI MAN movie review: Two-time OSCAR winner ANG LEE does mediocre work in this one

ANG LEE is definitely one of Hollywood’s most respected directors today, having won the Oscar best director award twice, first for “Brokeback Mountain” in 2006 and “Life of Pi” in 2013. Even before he conquered Hollywood, he already made wave with Chinese films that got nominated as best foreign language film, “The Wedding Banquet” and “Eat Drink Man Woman”. 

After “Life of Pi”, he did “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” that is not so impressive. He now comes up with “Gemini Man” that is even less impressive.

The movie is about an expert assassin, Henry (Will Smith), who wants to retire at 51.  But his bosses at the Defense Intelligence Agency want to neutralize him permanently. Soon, another hitman is hounding him and he is surprised when he discovers that it is actually a younger version of himself, also played by Will, thanks to digital de-aging computer technology that has been used before to Brad Pitt in “Benjamin Button”, Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Termination Salvation”, Kirk Douglas in “Ant-Man”, the late Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing in “Rogue One, A Star Wars Story”, Johnny Depp in “Pirates”, etc.

This element no longer comes as a jarring twist in the movie because it’s already been revealed in the trailer and even on its posters. It turns out Henry’s boss, Clay Varris (Clive Owen), have cloned him some 20 plus years ago and then raised his clone as an adopted son called Junior.

The story about a hitman who’s betrayed and hunted by his own handlers dates back to “The Bourne Identity” and its copycats. The motive of Varris in cloning Henry, his best assassin, is to come up with an army of his own genetically-engineered super soldiers, which has already been used in other movies, notably in “The Boys from Brazil”, “Captain America” and even Idris Elba in “Hobbs & Shaw”.

The idea of an assassin who has a younger and an older incarnation in the same movie has already been used more successfully in “Looper”, although they were played by different actors then, Joseph Gordon Levitt as Young Joe and Bruce Willis as Old Joe. This is where “Gemini Man” struggles. Its main ideas have been used before and they’re just recycling it.

Ang Lee fails to employ his touch here as a visionary director he could have injected some serious thoughts about the moral whys and wherefores of cloning. He does get to direct some great action sequences, particularly the parkour sequences and the chase scene on a motorcycle involving the young and old Will Smith, where they get to show some incredible stunts and even pays tribute to John Woo who might have done a better sci-fi actioner with this kind of material.

But for the whole movie to be truly compelling, it has to have a more nail-biting narrative and not a dull screenplay like what they have here.  Honestly, we prefer the more elegantly mounted action scenes he did in his Oscar-winning “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.

The stars try their best to make the material work, like Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who we best remember as the girl held hostaged in “10 Cloverleaf Lane”) as Danny, a boat rental clerk who Henry quickly unmasks as another agent out to spy on him and later sides with him to be an ally. But it’s Will Smith who puts in a lot more effort.

The problem is both his two characters are not that really well written so they’re not that engaging on screen. The movie could do a lot more with some humor, what with Will being an expert in comic timing. Honestly, he was more effective as the genie in “Alladin”. And Ang Lee treats this comic-book material so deadly serious when he could have camped it up a bit for some laughs.

As it is, there are some other ridiculous elements. It’s established that Will’s Henry is deadly allergic to bees and his young self uses this later to prove something. But in the opening seqence, Henry is shown in an open meadow in Belgium while waiting for a speeding express train to pass so he can shoot his target through the window. You’d think that guys who are fatally allergic to bees would be more careful and avoid lying sprawled on an open hillside where bees can be flying around.

One action sequence takes place in a tourist spot in Colombia and, surprisingly, there are no people around while the two Wills are battling it out with each other, even throwing grenades around. Will also has an Asian friend (Benedict Wong) who can run errands for him in a jiffy, including getting a jetplane for him to fly them to Budapest and back.

And you’re not supposed to ask at all how he does it. Even more annoying is the casual plugs of product placements showing beer and soft drink bottles that are so shameless. Here's hoping Ang Lee will be able to make "bawi" in his next film project.