MOVIE REVIEW: Two Smiths is two too many in sci-fi thriller
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen
Running: time 117 minutes
Verdict: A costly experiment
Technology gets in the way of the story in this 3D-Plus action thriller, which has its audience seeing double in more ways than one.
The first is entirely conscious.
Will Smith plays two versions of the same character in Gemini Man - one an ageing assassin, the other his young and callow clone. Perhaps because the Hollywood A-lister's focus is spilt, he does neither job particularly well. Smith is a likeable screen presence and he acquits himself well in the pedal-to-the-metal action sequences, shot by Oscar-winning Australian cinematographer Dion Beebe. But his version of a hitman who belatedly acquires a conscience - a la Jason Bourne - is barely skin deep.
The actor fares a little better in his motion capture performance as the unformed Junior, largely due to the novelty factor of the digital effects.
And that brings us neatly to Gemini Man's second, unintentional focus issue.
Two-time Oscar winner Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, The Life Of Pi) continues to experiment with the high-resolution 3D format he pioneered in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016) in this rare foray into the action genre.
Sending his audience cross-eyed is one of the unfortunate teething issues of the emerging technology - perhaps because the theatrical infrastructure has yet to catch up.
In the screening this reviewer attended, the audio track was also annoyingly out of synch, giving the impression of a bad dub.
Lee is convinced that detail captured by an unusually high frame rate of between 60 and 120 frames per second creates a more immersive cinematic experience - and, to be fair, once moviegoers' eyes have adjusted, there is an almost visceral intensity to some of the film's key set pieces.
A high-stakes chase sequence, for example, in which veteran Defense Intelligence Agency operative Henry Brogan is pursued through the streets Cartagena, on Colombia's Caribbean coast, by a younger, meaner version of himself, positively crackles with energy.
But when the new digital aesthetic is even fractionally off, it can just as easily throw the audience out of the story. Gee-whiz moments, such as the one in which fragments of a plate-glass window appear to shatter into the auditorium, are similarly distracting.
All of which detracts from an already shallow and derivative screenplay.
Gemini Man's potentially interesting premise - of a man who is literally forced to confront his younger self - has been through so many iterations over the course of the past 20 years, it's had the life sucked out of it.
(Several directors, including Tony Scott and Curtis Hanson, were attached to the former Disney property at various points. Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Sean Connery were all set to star.)
Mary Elizabeth Winstead does her best to level the playing field as Brogan's kick-arse offsider. Clive Owen eats up the role of his arch nemesis, a military tycoon who is working on a secret project that aims to genetically engineer a new breed of super warriors who will kill without remorse.
With hindsight, there appears to have been a very good reason why this project languished in development hell for such a long time.
Opens October 10