Would you kill a clone of your younger self, regardless of the stakes? That’s the ethical dilemma facing the protagonist in Gemini Man, a silly high-concept thriller that leaves us wishing he’d just pulled the trigger.
This globetrotting action saga proves an odd fit for Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and fails to capitalize on some impressive visual effects and a committed dual performance by Will Smith.
The story follows Henry (Smith), a middle-aged assassin known for his legendary sharpshooting prowess who decides to retire because he’s tired of looking over his shoulder. He’s even able to confirm that he’s being followed during a Florida fishing trip, where he gains an ally in an undercover agent (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) for the fictional Defense Intelligence Agency.
The loners gradually develop trust for one another once they learn their fates could be intertwined. Their primary rival has a familiar face — Junior (played by Smith with some digital enhancements) is a clone of Henry, only half his age.
The nimble yet robotic Junior was raised since birth to do the dirty work for a greedy biotech mogul (Clive Owen) who uses his military and corporate connections for villainous means, leading to a cat-and-mouse game of deception and betrayal.
Continuing Lee’s fascination with technological trickery (such as shooting in a high-frame rate), the slick and stylish effort benefits from a few taut action set pieces — including a pivotal motorcycle chase through the crowded streets of Cartagena — while using some shrewd visual gimmicks to depict its duplicate adversaries.
Meanwhile, Smith flashes his usual charisma in both of his roles, which are tricky because he’s essentially acting by himself in sequences where the clones share the screen. It’s not really his fault that the film fails to generate much emotion from Henry and Junior’s morally complex dynamic.
The muddled script falters because it never commits to being either a straight-up action flick, in which case it needs more high-octane chases and shootouts, or a more cerebral cautionary tale about high-tech terrorism, in which case it needs to be less contrived and ridiculous.
As a result, Gemini Man is more tedious than exciting, and more pedantic than provocative. Human cloning technology still lags well behind the cloning abilities of Hollywood screenwriters, despite this film’s attempt to prove otherwise.