And who knows, perhaps some specific kind of story – about alternate realities, maybe? – could benefit from this unsettling hyper-reality. But Gemini Man is just a big, dumb action flick, full of dialogue like “I will not let you take out a hit on American soil,” so the many clichés of the script (the spy talk, the pseudo-science, the little wisecracks) ring even more false. It just feels like they’re all play-acting, and badly.
Unsurprisingly, the clarity of the image and proximity of the camera make most of the performances, even from this talented cast, seem wildly overwrought. I’ve heard it said that the difference between acting on stage and acting on film is like the difference between looking at an object through a telescope and looking at it through a microscope; here, it’s like someone put a magnifying glass under the microscope. This camera picks up every potential false note, every pat gesture, every half-hearted emotion, every throwaway line reading. And the crystal clarity of the image really doesn’t do Lee and his team any favors when Smith’s stuntman takes over, or when the computer-generated flames come into play, or when they break out the wound make-up, or when they make with the video-game zooms.
It should be noted that only a handful of screens around the country will get the full 2K/3D/120 fps experience. And when everyone else sees it looking like a regular movie, maybe it will play like one. (I’m not sitting through it again to find out.) I’m keenly aware that anyone pooh-poohing an innovative new technology – especially one that’s being used by Mr. Cameron for the surely inescapable (once they finally arrive) Avatar sequels – inevitably sounds like those clueless old farts they trot out in the chapter of the film history books about the transition from silent movies to talkies. But the difference is that when The Jazz Singer hit screens, narrative filmmaking was barely a quarter-century old. We’ve been seeing movies at 24 fps for far, far longer.
At this point, what our eyes see when we watch images on a screen is a question not of reality, but of association, and perhaps what’s most impressive about Gemini Man is how it performs the magic trick of taking $138 million and turning it into a low-budget made-for-Cinemax thriller. The lighting is flat and ugly (half the picture seems to take place in the goddamn dark), the score sounds like it was composed in GarageBand, and most of the time, everyone looks deeply uncomfortable. I’m not sure why a filmmaker as talented as Ang Lee has hitched himself to this technology, but it’s a dud. And the thought of him wasting a decade of his career on this nonsense, the way Zemeckis did on his mo-cap movies, is crushing.
Credit where due: the computer-aided young Will Smith is totally, eerily convincing. And the seams don’t show, even for a second, in the scenes he shares with himself (especially, and trickily, their fight scenes). I do wonder what they could’ve done with those advances in technology, were they deployed in the service of, y’know, a real movie. Gemini Man is not that. It’s a sizzle reel for a bad idea.
“Gemini Man” is out Friday.