Director Ang Lee has returned after 2016's disappointing (and little seen) Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk with Gemini Man, an action-drama headlined by Will Smith. Smith, a bankable star who's always reliable for onscreen charm, leads Lee's project, one that languished in development hell for over 20 years. With the technology finally available to make the film's premise a reality, appointing Lee to direct seemed like a no-brainer. Lee is one of cinema's supporters of new cinema technology and has applied them to many of his projects (with varying results. Walk, for example was shot at an astonishing 120 frames per second, which is how Lee also shot Gemini Man.

Gemini Man arrives with a simple story – government hitman Henry Brogan is the best at what he does, but he's getting old and he's beginning to get religion. He decides to retire after performing a near-impossible “AMF” (yeah, ask me what it means, or, if you're really brave, discover its paltry meaning by watching the movie) on a target – Henry shot a terrorist from distance (it was mentioned 2 km) while the target was traveling on a high-speed train. But there were some complications with that hit and, instead of being able to retire peacefully, Henry's being surveilled by the government, particularly by Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), another assassin who eventually becomes Henry's ally.

That all seems like some basic, run-of-the-mill stuff, doesn't it? If you strip Gemini Man down, you essentially have a generic project that doesn't sound at all enticing. What supposed to sell Lee's latest is the notion that an assassin, sent by one-dimensional bad guy Clay Varris (Clive Owen), is a clone of Henry. Using de-aging technology and motion capture, Gemini Man doubles down by having two Will Smiths! So it's Henry versus Junior (as Clay calls his adopted son) and you'd think that'd be enough for this to work. Sadly, it isn't.

To paraphrase a quote from Gemini Man, it “leans hard” into showing two Wills – Henry, who is current age; and Junior who can pass for Smith during his The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air days. Smith plays the 51-year-old (!!!) Henry as you'd expect – tired, worn down and full of regret; haunted by his violent past and ready to spend the rest of his days fishing. Junior, life still ahead of him, isn't supposed to have the emotional baggage or the conscience, thus making him a more efficient killer. Lee, though, allows his creative side to creep in by instilling some doubt and hesitation within Junior. It would've been great if Lee more thoroughly explored that duality, but not much is made of it since the focus was more about their similarities. What's worse, even though audiences now have two-times the Will, his characters don't allow him to regale us with his undeniable charm.

Gemini's action is decent; Henry and Junior's first encounter involved a motorcycle chase that became a motorcycle duel. That was the highlight of the action set pieces and, since I didn't get to see it in the high frame rate, it looked fine but choppy. Outside of that the action isn't extraordinary and, in my opinion, didn't contain enough. Ultimately, it seems like Lee was non-committal in the direction he wanted to take. Gemini got stuck in between being an actioner and a character study in which a troubled protagonist is forced to battle his inner demons in the form of a clone of himself. I like the latter's potential but with Paramount likely pushing for a more appealing (and less thought-provoking) action film, Gemini Man is just laying dormant. That's tough but that's what happens when a project comes with a price tag of nearly $140 million.

Gemini Man will suffice if there's not much else to do, but it's a dated film which boasts state of the art visual technology and borrows conceptually from other films. Those other films, like Face/Off and Looper, are executed better and are more entertaining, so Gemini Man comes off looking like a stale retread. Lee fails to add much life, while Smith actually does a fine job of making this watchable (even tolerable). But Gemini Man's lack of identity means it'll be a distant memory by the end of its opening weekend.

2.5 stars out of 5


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