PG-13, 107 mins.
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.
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.
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"
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
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.