A film review by Craig J. Koban April 27, 2019

REPLICAS j
    

2019, PG-13, 107 mins.

 

Keanu Reeves as William Foster  /  Alice Eve as Mona Foster  /  Thomas Middleditch as Ed Whittle  /  Emjay Anthony as Matt Foster  /  Emily Alyn Lind as Sophie Foster  /  Nyasha Hatendi as Scott  /  Amber Rivera as Margaret  /  Jeffrey Holsman as Blue Eyes  /  John Ortiz as Jones

Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff  /  Written by Chad St. John

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago I appeared on live TV and defended Keanu Reeves for being a better actor than he's often given credit for.  I also went on to explain that when he's given just the right character, film, and director married to his unique skills then he can be a commanding and charismatic screen presence (the recent JOHN WICK films come to mind).  However, I did concede that the Canadian actor has most certainly delivered his fair share of lousy performances and has appeared in many equally mediocre films over the years.  He has cinematic skeletons in his closet, to be sure. 

After screening the ludicrously plotted and ineptly executed sci-fi drama REPLICAS I'm quite confident that this is easily one of his "skeleton" entries.  Reeves is, of course, no stranger to the genre, who appeared in the iconic MATRIX franchise (which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year), and this newest outing for the actor has some potentially intriguing ideas and themes about scientists playing God (which is material as old as the genre itself), but REPLICAS is unrelentingly low grade, insipidly performed, and laughable scripted; it barely breaks any new ground.  Perhaps its most dubious defining trait is that it's a frustratingly dumb movie that features smart people behaving idiotically, which helps lower it to such schlocky extremes that it never even attains a level of so bad, it's good.  

And, yes, it does feature one of those phoned in and mawkish Reeves performances that's really hard to defend. 

 

 

Perhaps Reeves is simply, well, not credible as a brilliant neuroscientist that's attempting to transplant human consciousness into a robotic brain and body.  He plays Will Foster, an employee for a tech company named Bionye that has been tirelessly working with his right hand man in Ed (Thomas Middleditch) to implant a dead patient's mind into a synthetic shell, but they've been riddled with setbacks and failures during said pursuit.  As the film opens the pair has just received a dead soldier donor to work on, and initially the transference of his consciousness into the android body seems to go smoothly, but then when the army man realizes, to his absolute horror, that he's an artificial being he goes haywire and tries to kill himself, leading to Will pulling the plug.  The obtrusively shoddy CGI effects used to create this robot very early on establish a low quality bar that the film can never break away from as it progresses.  

Complicating matters for Will is the fact that his boss (John Ortiz) is threatening to shut his project down if he doesn't get results ASAP.  Realizing that he needs a bit of a break to recharge, Will decides to take a brief getaway vacation with his wife Mona (Alice Eve) and their three young children.  Rather suddenly and tragically, they're all involved in a horrific car accident that kills everyone but Will.  Determined to use his knowledge of synthetic biology and Ed's rather convenient knowledge of human cloning for mutual benefit, Will decides to secretly team up with Ed to get the deceased bodies back home before the authorities realize what has happened in a clandestine effort...to clone his family to bring them back from the dead.  There's one big problem, though: Ed is only able to secure three cloning pods from work, which forces Will to make the agonizing choice of which family member to not bring back on top of dealing with the whole thorny ethical debate about creating human beings or "replicas" from scratch. 

It doesn't take a genius to know where this film is heading.  It's also probably not spoiler inducing to reveal that Will and Ed are able to duplicate Mona and the two kids and that complications ensue.  I usually like sci-fi films about scientists using their supreme intelligence to artificially create life using modern technological advances (the masterful EX MACHINA comes to immediately to mind).  There's also the intriguing idea in REPLICAS of exploring the nature of Will making highly questionable moral choices while dealing with traumatizing grief, the latter which is obviously clouding his judgment.  Unfortunately, Chad St. John's screenplay never really feels equal to the task of compellingly examining these would-be juicy themes with any real dramatic potency.  As one preposterous plot development gets piled on right after the other it leads to the film approaching high camp instead of thoughtful speculation, which robs REPLICAS of any semblance of intelligence. 

There are so many imbecilic lapses in basic logic in the scripting that are so incredulously head spinning that one has to wonder if what we're witnessing on screen was barely in the first draft phase.  The film never makes a strong claim for convincing us that this scientist that crashed his car is able to hide the wreck from law enforcement, let alone hide the dead bodies away from concerned friends and family members.  Then there's the notion that Ed and Will are able to steal massive cloning pods from the corporation that they work for without tipping off their bosses or anyone else that is in charge of basic medical inventory counts.  Some of the more unintentionally giggle inducing moments show Will desperately trying to sell the lie that his kids are still alive by responding, in one instance, to the constant texts from one of his dead daughter's BFFs.  I was wondering how any smart phones would still work after being submerged under water during a car crash...but...never mind.  Perhaps the larger issue is how Will manages to oversee the human cloning in his basement without attracting any attention from the outside world for weeks on end.

I know what you're thinking: Maybe if REPLICAS had some stylistic panache and strong production design then it could have helped prop up its implausibly bad writing.  Nope.  Jeffrey Nachmanoff's flat footed direction does not make for an appealing watch (more often that not, REPLICAS looks like a cheap and disposable TV movie of the week instead of a theatrical feature).  And the VFX, as mentioned, are so B-grade and awful looking that they make early first gen CGI in movies from the early 90s look as polished as something in AVATAR by direct comparison.  Obviously, REPLICAS had an ultra mirco budget, but I've seen inexpensive films that have displayed great visual ingenuity before and never drew attention to their lack of financial resources.  It's almost as if the producers here gave all of their money to the hiring of a big name like Reeves and then forgot to allocate some capital to making the film, well, look good. 

And, yeah, Reeves seems awfully wooden here playing a mad scientist driven by extreme misery to reclaim a family that was taken away from him.  The part almost requires a performer with a more macabre and fanatical edge to work (Michael Shannon would have had a field day chewing scenery here).  As the film awkwardly careens towards a climatic act and final moment that will have many a viewer in a state of befuddlement it probably wouldn't matter what actor was quarterbacking the whole affair.  REPLICAS is a pretty indefensibly rotten sci-fi thriller that squanders Reeves' presence and a basic premise that could have gone to some interesting places.  The film commits the biggest sin of not embracing its preposterousness, but it does have the quintessentially stilted Reeves deliver lines like "I have to watch the pods!" with the seriousness of a proverbial heart attack.  That's about as entertaining as this film gets.

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