Turning up on Netflix like an unwanted guest, or two, Ang Lee’s Gemini Man passed most of us by during a short cinema release where it failed to recoup a substantial cost; a quick swatch at the idiocies involved gives us the chance to make a clear diagnosis. Shot in some kind of super-dynamic clear-o-vision, it’s one of these films where the technology involved seems to have overwhelmed everyone involved, and the result feels as visually forced as a glitchy PS2 game.
Will Smith is a big name for sure, but as anyone who has sat through films like After Earth or Seven Pounds can attest, he can also be a permanent strain to watch, and it remains to be seen if his tennis turn in King Richard can reverse an ongoing career slump. Here he plays several roles; initially, an aging hit-man cliche, let’s call him Will Old, who wants out of the assassination game. Will Old finds himself pursued through Georgia, Colombia, Hungary and various green-screen studios by another version of himself, let’s call him Will Young. Sidekicks Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong help Will Old stay one jump ahead of Will Young, but spoiler alert, Will Young’s handler (Clive Owen) has a third Will Even Younger up his sleeve, forcing Will Old and Will Young to sort the matter out Big Willie Style.
Gemini Man feels like it would have been old hat 25 years ago, when it was originally mooted as a vehicle for every bankable star with a creatively bankrupt agent. But Ang Lee, usually a very capable director with a gift for technically assisted storytelling, seems to have drawn the short straw here with a narrative that is remarkably perfunctory. Smith doesn’t give much of a performance in any of his incarnations, and the over-qualified support’s attempts to breathe life into this dummy of a film are the few saving graces.
Viewed in 1080p on Netflix, Gemini Man at least looks different; with all elements of each scene in vivid focus, it’s an absolute pain to look at, and Lee misses out on one of the basics of cinematic language; being able to chose the focus and direct the audience. Thus, even as Will Old and Will Young scrap, the viewer is drawn to each and every other object in the frame, and the eye-burning result feels like when the lights go on in a nightclub at 4am. Gemini Man was an expensive and deserved flop on release, but streaming should put the tin lid on its reputation; like Smith’s central performance, it’s dull, vanilla, and a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of what movies could and should be. As Smith himself once suggested, in happier times, break out, before you get bum-rushed…