[Screen It]


(2019) (Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead) (PG-13)

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Action: A veteran government assassin learns that the person sent to kill him is a younger cloned version of himself.
Henry Brogan (WILL SMITH) is a 51-year-old government assassin whose work has taken a toll on his psyche and desire to continue, resulting in him wanting to retire. But before that can happen, he learns from an associate that his last job resulted in him taking out a molecular biologist rather than a terrorist as he had been told.

Things quickly escalate when forces working for shadowy government figure Clay Verris (CLIVE OWEN) kill Henry's associate, another man he works for, and try to kill Henry as well. He manages to kill them and escape with another operative, Danny Zakarweski (MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD), who was originally sent to observe him but now finds herself targeted as well.

Henry's former associate and friend Baron (BENEDICT WONG) flies them out of the country, but Clay has no problem tracking them and has sent his adopted son -- who he's raised and trained to be a killer -- to finish the job he earlier failed at. But only Clay knows the real truth and that is that Junior (WILL SMITH) is Henry's much younger clone, something Henry, Danny and Baron eventually figure out.

Startled by that discovery and not wanting to kill his clone, Henry does what he can to try to convince the younger version of himself not to follow through on his orders and kill him.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I don't believe I've ever heard this asked of everyday common folk like you and me, but a question celebrities and other famous people sometimes get from reporters is something along the lines of "If you could tell your younger self something, what would it be?" Of course, that stems from the age-old comment "If I only knew then what I know now" that can apply to almost any aspect of life.

Sci-fi writers have long played with that idea, usually in the form of time travel where a person goes back in time and purposefully or accidentally interacts with themselves. That, in itself, creates the paradox of such an encounter altering the course of the younger version and the future one as well, thus meaning the time travel trip back wouldn't occur and so on.

More than two decades ago, writer Darren Lemke got around that dilemma by eliminating the time travel and introducing the notion of meeting one's younger clone. Going through rewrites and all sorts of directors and stars in the intervening years, the gist of that idea finally makes it to theaters in the form of "Gemini Man."

Written by Lemke and David Benioff and Billy Ray and directed by Ang Lee, the story revolves around a 51-year-old government assassin, Henry Brogan (Will Smith), who's had enough killing and wants to hang up the sniper rifle for good. But he learns from an associate in the biz that his last kill wasn't as advertised and that his handlers lied to him.

Before he knows it, he's now the target for a decidedly different sort of "retirement" and along with another government agent who was originally tasked with watching him, Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he goes on the run with the help of yet another past associate, Baron (Benedict Wong).

He has no problem offing a number of assassins sent his way, but one in particular he finds troublesome, while that killer ends up frustrated that his target seems able to anticipate his every move. How could that be possible?

Well, if those two are one and the same -- sort of -- that would explain things and it turns out that "Junior" is none other than a younger, cloned version of Henry, created by a shadowy but two-dimensional government figure, Clay Verris (Clive Owen, completely wasted in the part), who's looking to make the perfect soldier.

That certainly sounds like one of those high concept, sci-fi/action flicks from the '90s (which makes sense as it was spawned back then), but one where the technology wasn't available to have both a younger and older version of the same character sharing the screen (which probably explains why it was shelved for so long).

Nowadays, pretty much anything is possible and rather than having Will Smith play both parts and then de-age the face of one of them (which is all the rage nowadays), Smith's and a body double's motions were captured and fed into a computer to spit out a fully digital version of a younger Smith.

As a standalone creation, the 23-year-old character is fairly impressive. But perhaps because I already knew of the high-tech wizardry that was used for the effect, if often seemed to me that "Junior" didn't always seamlessly fit into his surroundings or interaction with the flesh and blood actor.

It certainly doesn't help that the screenplay is mediocre at best, and if you removed the special effects angle and having Smith as the star, this would be one of those instantly forgettable, straight to video, B-level movies that come and go every year out of Hollywood.

There's clearly potential in the premise -- life regrets, getting a second chance at life (sort of, at least in an odd and indirect way), the perils of technology and more -- but most of that is touched upon in little more than superficial ways.

If anything, and like the face de-aging work of special effects houses, it proves that actors (both alive and even those who've passed away) will continue to be able to work by now avoiding the "You're too old (or too dead) to work in this town anymore" excuse.

But as a standalone film, "Gemini Man" proves that two isn't necessarily better than one and makes you wonder if Lee and everyone else will look back at this with a "if only I knew then what I know now" mindset. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed October 8, 2019 / Posted October 11, 2019

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