Review – Smith Is Beside Himself (“Gemini Man”)

Oh sure, you’ve heard this one before: a guy gets cloned and doesn’t know about it (The 6th Day, The Island, Moon, Oblivion, etc), but this one has Will Smith in it and it’s directed by Ang Lee. Plus, some of the writers wrote for Game of Thrones and Lost, so it’s got that going for it!

Say hello to Henry Brogan (Smith), an assassin who’s part of the elite top-secret program called Gemini, a black-ops school for recruiting and training killers. Deadshot. . .sorry, I mean, Henry is damn good, but he’s getting old (hey, is 51 old? Just askin’) and decides to retire. Ah, but if you’ve ever watched any movie ever, you KNOW no assassin can just retire, right? Right! Gemini’s boss, intense Clay Varris (Clive Owen) decides that Henry shouldn’t investigate about his last assignment and wants him taken out. Yeah, good luck with that!

As Henry is on the run for his life, he hooks up with Danielle Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an attractive FBI agent sent to track him, and Baron (Benedict Wong), a former colleague and trusted buddy. As they go globe-trotting from Florida to Columbia to Budapest to get answers, Henry is constantly thwarted by a lone assassin who’s after him… and boy! Is this guy ever good! In fact, this young man is especially dangerous and relentless and it’s only until Budapest that Dani finds out the truth about this guy. He’s a clone of Henry!

Referred to simply as Junior (Smith again in a CG de-aging process), this 20-something ruthless killer stops at nothing to locate Henry and put a bullet in his head. But things get weird as Henry is one-step ahead of Junior and finally gets a chance to talk to himself, however his younger self is about as thick-headed as he was at that age! Can Henry knock some sense into himself? Will Junior realize he’s a clone and team up with himself? And why doesn’t Baron call for Dr. Strange for help?

I really didn’t expect this movie to be as good as it was. From the trailers I thought it was going to be a schlocky, goofy, silly, dumb action clone movie like Replicas or The 6th Day. I was SO surprised! First off, the script, written by David Benioff (Games of Thrones), Billy Ray (Captain Phillips), and Darren Lemke (Lost TV series) plays out like a surrogate Jason Bourne spy film, with all the clandestine shenanigans goings on. Smart, fresh, witty, and not dumbed-down in the dialogue, the movie has the audacity to be mature in its scope and feelings without becoming a silly movie all about cloning.

Okay, so it DOES have our heroes suffering insurmountable injuries that would have killed your normal human being, but just overlook that part. And director Ang Lee, famous for his mature films like Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, reached back to his action roots and shot this film like Paul Greengrass or David Leitch. His camera work here is dazzling; just the motorcycle chase scene alone is worth your ticket price. Starting with a single, continuous shot, Lee follows Smith on a bike and it only gets crazier and more unpredictable. Kudos to the stunt people!

Smith as both Brogan and his de-aged self (Junior) are excellent; Smith even giving himself a mild ribbing for getting old. Owens is sufficiently evil and the tag-team of Wong & Winstead are not your typical side-kicks. Dani’s no Black Widow/MCU kick-ass, take-no-prisoners kinda gal, while Baron provides the comic relief and reminds me of Rick from Magnum P.I.; he always “knows a guy”. It’s not one of those mind-numbing actioners like the recent Hobbs & Shaw, but a multi-layered thriller with light dollops of sci-fi thrown in for taste.

Replicant (2001)

What’s the best way to catch a serial killer? Why, make a clone of him, of course! That’s the idiotic premise behind this dumb action movie starring the “Muscles From Brussels”, Jean-Claude Van Damme in a dual role, making this movie the fifth time where he’s played himself as a twin. Insert your own joke here.

Meet serial killer Edward “The Torch” Garrotte (Van Damme) who, for ten years, has been killing single mothers and setting them on fire. Dogged Seattle Washington Detective Jake Riley (Michael Rooker) has come this close to catching Garrotte when he’s given a chance to up his game by a clandestine organization called the NSF (National Security Foundation). These weirdos have used a single strand of Garrotte’s hair to clone a fully grown replicant of Garrotte (Van Damme again, less the long straggly hair and yellow sunglasses). They also theorize that their Garrotte V.2 (or “replicant”) has a telepathic link to the real Garrotte and, with Jake’s help, they can find him.

But wouldn’t it be easier just to plaster his face everywhere KNOWING what looks like? Naw… that’s way too easy!! Anyway, after V.2 grows and learns some rudimentary skills like amazing gymnastics and fighting (after all, this IS a Van Damme movie) and some words, V.2 is remanded into Jake’s custody like an overgrown trained monkey with the mind of a child. But even though V.2 sees occasional flashes of Garrotte’s past murders (in the third person? How does that work?), Jake gets frustrated and treats him like a dangerous criminal with sheer delight.

Finally, after nearly an hour into the film, both Garrotte and V.2 meet up and get into a quick fight, but the movie gets dragged out even longer as V.2 tries to figure out who he really is, what connection he has to his “brother’ Garrotte, and if he should betray Jake. The hokey, anti-climatic, and laughable ending goes on and on and on for an excruciating 18 minutes while every stunt in the book is thrown out. Physics and unimaginable bodily harm to the human body be damned! This ludicrous screenplay was brought to you by Lawrence David Riggins (Ironheart, Hell Girl) and Les Weldon (Looking For Lola, Hidden Agenda), two writers you never heard of (that wrote movies you never saw) that faded into obscurity.

Director Ringo Lam, however, made a name for himself, mostly in China. His action films (Twin Dragons, City on Fire) are all pretty much the same: a ridiculously  simple and unimaginative plot combined with a whole lotta martial arts and stunt work. His direction is standard and pretty good, knowing how to set-up a stunt and showcase it, but he succumbs to too many whiz-bang smash-cuts and fast-edits to “improve” it, thus spoiling many shots. Then you have this dreadful script, which is nothing more than a showcase for Van Damme and what he does best. Gravel-voiced Rooker, who almost always plays a bad guy, has a nice, meaty role here, but isn’t quite clear on his character. Maybe if he was blue and chasing after Star Lord, then…

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