In the history of cinema, there have been several cases – recently, John Wick, but also Se7en and, most notably, Alien – of scripts being written on the assumption that they’d be made on an an exploitation budget winding up at a major studio and rewritten to suit an auteur director or a big star. Gemini Man is written by the sort of folk who get huge paydays but qualify as journeyman hacks – David Benioff, of Game of Thrones, but also Troy and X-Men Origins Wolverine; Billy Ray, of Volcano, The Hunger Games and Overlord; and Darren Lemke, of Shrek Forever After, Jack the Giant Slayer, Goosebumps and Shazam. Still, it has the feel of a premise that’d have been offered to Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme if the tech to youthify Will Smith hadn’t been developed by that multi-gazillion-dollar research program funded by the film industry to ensure there would be no reason to give Jaden Smith a job ever again.
Copping its title from a little-remembered 1976 TV superpower series – with Ben Murphy as a hero capable of being invisible for minutes at a time, a feat he bested after the show’s cancellation by becoming invisible forever – Gemini Man is a Bourne movie with a sci-fi twist as disavowed US government-sanctioned assassin Henry Brogan (Smith) finds that he’s being hunted by his own clone, who has been raised by private security creepo Clay Verris (Clive Owen) to be just like Henry but without that tiny conscience that has given the 51-year-old hit man a few twinges about maybe not enjoying shooting people so much. Henry goes on the run – the story traipses from Belgium to the US to Panama to Hungary to back to the US – with similarly-targeted ‘DIA’ agent Danny Zakareweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and his old sidekick pal Baron (Benedict Wong), with periodic shoot-outs and fist-fights between OG Smith and CG Smith.
Given the set-up, it’s not exactly unpredictable that Junior will go the same route as the original and start to question Clay, who clearly didn’t see Four-Sided Triangle (which predicted how this sort of experiment would work out way back in 1953). However, such is the uncanny valley effect – imagine a whole face like Henry Cavill’s upper lip in Justice League – that the would-be emotional climaxes as Junior tearfully hugs Henry are defused because you just can’t help seeing the join where a false face is mashed against a real one. It’s somehow landed on the docket of Ang Lee, who adds to the high-tech cheapness of it all by shooting in that extra framerate IMAX-friendly 3D that makes a big budget action picture look like a blown-up ITV outside broadcast newscast from the 1970s.
This gives the impression of being kicked around a bit in the edit – one major scene-stealing character gets dumped unceremonially, perhaps because test audiences were more interested in them than the Smiths – but the premise forces the script into its own cul-de-sacs. It has grace notes – rather than go an expected gidget-and-geezer route, there’s a pleasing admission that Winstead’s character is too young to be a love interest for Smith Prime and too old for Junior – and bursts of tolerable action, but overall there’s a sense that the SyFy Channel missed out on a prime vehicle for Dean Cain or Steve Guttenberg.