Style fails to prevail over substance in neon-noir murder mystery 'Gemini'

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Neon | Daily Texan Staff

From the upside-down opening shots of palm trees all the way to a mirrored view at the end, “Gemini” is nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is.

Directed by indie filmmaker Aaron Katz, the neon-noir film follows the investigation into the death of actress Heather Anderson (Zoe Kravitz). Though the flawlessly cast film isn’t terrible, it drags in its middle section and would have fared better as a short.

Protagonist Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke) is Heather’s best friend and the prime suspect in the case, so she sets out on her own to clear her name. The always-perfect John Cho plays the detective pursuing her, acting as a foil to Jill and charmingly coming out of nowhere to get in her way at every turn. And that’s about all of the film’s bare-bones plot.

The slow pacing of the story leads to an hour and a half film that feels closer to two and a half hours. It will make you want to check your watch the whole time. “Gemini” isn’t exactly a boring movie, it just lacks anything to make it stand out against the packed crowd of recent murder mysteries and neon-soaked LA crime films (check out “Murder on the Orient Express” or “The Neon Demon” to scratch those itches).

In telling a story about the murder of a celebrity, Katz flubs the opportunity to have the film mean something. It touches lightly on many topics, such as fandoms and gun culture, but fails to go deep into any of them. In a few self-aware moments, the characters discuss what the story would be like if it were a movie. This conversation makes it seem like “Gemini” may turn into a “Scream”-like commentary on the general narrative structure of Hollywood murder tales, but Katz is no Craven, and it abandons these ideas just moments later. Juggling so many ideas was an ambitious call, but the movie fails to do anything with them.

What the film lacks in depth and engaging material, it makes up for in a wealth of style. Aesthetically, “Gemini” is a genuine feast, painting Los Angeles in beautiful hues of bright purple and dark blue, drawing viewers into this vision of this black hole of a city. Much of the story is told through wordless views of Jill traveling to and fro across L.A., and they would eventually grow old under a director with less visual skill, but Katz continues to find new ways to show mundane actions in fascinating light. It’s only a shame there isn’t much in the way of emotional stakes, as the film leaves the audience mesmerized but detached.

As “Gemini” approaches its conclusion, the disparate parts finally start to mesh. Just as the impact of a close friend’s death on Jill becomes apparent, she solves Heather’s murder. The solution to the mystery is a bold, morally gray choice from Katz that doesn’t just retread the stories of past films. The twist, which won’t be spoiled here, recontextualizes the entire movie, and it’s just a shame the rest of it isn’t as daring.

Though beautiful, well-cast and certainly ambitious, “Gemini” just isn’t very interesting for most of its runtime. It’s overflowing with technical artistry, but devoid of depth, and if the narrative had matched its visual grace it could’ve stacked up to some of the best examples of the genre.

 

  • “Gemini”
  • Rating: R
  • Runtime: 93 minutes
  • Score: 2.5/5 stars