Legendary director Ang Lee first dipped his toe into the world of high frame rate cinema with 2016’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which was shot and shown in select theaters at 120 frames per second (as opposed the usual 24).
Lee and executives hoped critics and audiences might give the new look a chance, but the bizarre adaptation of the best-selling novel wasn’t the hit that allowed the format to break through to the mainstream.
Perhaps they just needed a real movie star to sell it. So for his next trick, Lee has put not one, but two Will Smiths in an action movie, “Gemini Man.” Too bad everyone involved forgot about the part that actually makes you care: the script.
For what is essentially a tech demonstration of the high frame rate and a completely digital young Will Smith clone character, Lee has dusted off a 22-year-old script from Darren Lemke, on which Billy Ray and “Game of Thrones” showrunner David Benioff also have writing credits.
The rewrites over the decades have stripped anything interesting away from the story, which is a mere skeleton, a limp gesture at other, better espionage movies.
Smith plays Henry Brogan, a highly skilled assassin who has grown a conscience in his old age. For some garbled reason, his agency turns on him, and he goes on the run with an old pal from the Marines (Benedict Wong) and a young upstart agent, Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
The assassin they send after him is “Junior,” his 23-year-old clone, who was raised by Henry’s former comrade and current genetic mercenary farmer, Clay Verris (Clive Owen).
The plot is as boring and low-stakes as could be. There’s no doodad to find, computer chip to destroy or super-virus to avert. It’s just one young, digital Will Smith chasing older, real Will Smith around Cartagena and Budapest while both Will Smiths grapple with the existential crisis of facing… yourself.
The most memorable thing about this incredibly unmemorable movie is the vast array of beverages they consume, from coffee to beers to whiskey to strange Hungarian bloody marys. In 120 frames per second, the product placement for which Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola must have shelled out a pretty penny is even more glaring.
As for digital Will Smith? Let’s just say human actors don’t have to worry about losing their day jobs to deep fakes anytime soon. It’s ideal to have a star with whose young visage we’re familiar, and Junior sweats and cries remarkably, but it’s all hyperrealism, not real.
The clone doesn’t have the weight and heft of a person on screen, and though the banter between Winstead and Smith is forced and awkward at best, Junior could never pull it off.
The most egregious thing about “Gemini Man” is just how bad it looks.
Most of the action scenes take place at night, with one set during the bright of day in colorful Colombia that is so cartoonishly wonky that the need for darkness becomes obvious.
It’s like watching an entire movie in a theater with the motion smoothing TV setting turned on. Much like “Billy Lynn,” none of this was needed to tell this specific story, what little of it there is. So what, exactly, is the point of this very expensive experiment?