It quickly becomes apparent that the star of the L.A. murder mystery “Gemini” isn’t the femme fatale or the falsely accused heroine, but instead the neon haze of the city itself.
Though well-written and well-acted and boasting a reasonably propulsive plot, this neo-noir’s stock-in-trade is its cool, lonely atmosphere. This is L.A. at its moviest, a psychedelic phantasia of 24-hour diners, underground nightclubs and canyon homes overlooking the lights of the never-sleeping city.
Imagine all of that shot through an Instagram filter and scored to some jazzy chaos from composer Keegan DeWitt, and you’ve got Aaron Katz’s “Gemini.”
It’s a mood that sticks with you awhile, even as the film’s story and characters have begun to fade before you leave the theater.
That’s not to say the story and characters are weak, just that the style eventually drowns them.
Our hero is Jill (Lola Kirke), the assistant to movie star Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz). The two are close friends, despite Heather issuing constant and sometimes unreasonable demands of her employee.
Heather is going through a bit of a thing. She just broke up with her crazy boyfriend (Reeve Carney), she’s taken a new lover (Greta Lee) and she’s angered a director (Nelson Franklin) after dropping out of his movie.
Heather has made a few enemies by the time someone murders her. Jill finds the starlet’s freshly made corpse with five bullets in it. Worse still, Heather was killed with Jill’s gun.
This makes Jill the lead suspect. With a detective (John Cho) closing in on her, she dyes her hair platinum blonde and goes on the lam looking for Heather’s killer in the hopes of clearing her own name. And this is a noir, after all, so nothing is what it seems.
Kirke makes for an appealing heroine, and the premise does generate a fair amount of suspense at certain points. But Katz (who directed the equally playful mystery “Cold Weather”) wraps the film in a distancing meta quality, keeping the stakes from ever feeling too high. A few of his devices border on being overly cute (like when a movie director tells Jill who Heather’s killer would be if they were in a well-written murder mystery), but Katz never quite crosses the line.
But, again, everything (flaws and virtues alike) takes a backseat to the film’s beautifully seedy city. Katz — working with his longtime cinematographer, Andrew Reed — is chiefly concerned with immersing us in his views of L.A., from its dark, lonely nooks to its glittering vistas.
By the time the theater’s lights come up, you feel like you’re getting back from a vacation.