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SXSW reviews: Aaron Katz's 'Gemini' wades into a sea of clichés

Takes on modern noir are so prevalent this decade that the entire genre is borderline rote. Masterfully done projects such as the TV version of “Fargo,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Gone Girl” combine a sense of formal classicism, pulpy material and an attention to character detail that elevate themselves from a morass of lesser entities. Aaron Katz’s new film,“Gemini,” is one of those lesser entities. Stars Lola Kirke and Zoe Kravitz gamely try to give their underwritten characters life, but the movie mires them in a sea of wan genre clichés.

Kirke (who, it must be said, is fantastic) plays Jill, the personal assistant and best friend to starlet Heather. Kravitz, essentially portraying herself, imbues Heather with a world-weary resign that suggests her growing dissatisfactions with the trappings of fame, and she and Kirke have a wonderful, lived-in chemistry that could support an entire movie by itself. Heather has no shortage of tribulations in her life: a disgruntled director (Nelson Franklin), a selfie-obsessed super-fan (the wonderful Jessica Parker Kennedy) and a lecherous paparazzo (James Ransone) all contribute to making every day a waking hell. One night, Heather asks Jill for a gun. The next morning, she winds up dead.

It’s a great first 20 minutes, but the rest of “Gemini” can’t sustain the tension and intrigue of its opening act. Jill, suspected of Heather’s demise, goes on the run pursued by a quirky detective (an underutilized John Cho) and tries to piece together what happened to her friend. Katz’s film suffers from a tonal issue. His previous works such as 2014’s “Land Ho!” are quintessential “dramedies,” but that blend of tones is tricky to pull off when working within the confines of film noir. Movies like “Fargo” and “Inherent Vice” filter the lurid gruesomeness of the genre through a lens of levity—Midwestern politeness and stoner shenanigans, respectively—that create worlds terrifyingly surreal in their mundaneness. “Gemini” doesn’t do that, choosing instead to focus on how seemingly terrible Jill is at being a fugitive. That kind of take could yield good dividends, but Katz’s screenplay thinks Jill is a lot more bumbling than she actually is. Would a true patsy really be able to steal a Kawasaki motorcycle and evade the police in a high-speed chase?

Despite its character and structural issues, “Gemini” still has its charms. Kirke and Kravitz are terrific, as is Greta Lee as Heather’s K-Pop superstar girlfriend. Katz clearly loves Hollywood, and the cinematography has the same camera glide and soft neon hues as other LA noirs like “Drive.” In a way, the film feels like a regression for Katz. His Portland-set 2011 feature “Cold Weather” offered a similar take on modern noir that crackled with energy and pulpiness in a way that “Gemini” can’t quite match. Kirke and Kravitz deserve another film together—something quieter, more character-focused and less enamored with its own cleverness.


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