In case you were curious, Replicas is a Christmas movie. You may find that fact, or the fact that multiple scenes in this sci-fi thriller reference the holiday season or literally take place at a Christmas tree-shopping site in Puerto Rico, superfluous or inexplicable. Perhaps I’ve buried the lede, because you see, Replicas itself is quite inexplicable. Here, we have the first wide-release contender of 2019 for the title of Most Utterly Bizarre Film of the Year. There’s no sane metric under which I could recommend this film, but its badness is quite the thing to behold.
Depending on which film of his you watch, of course, that tends to be an undercurrent of Keanu Reeves’ career. Of late, Reeves has had a resurgence thanks to his starring role in the thrilling and bone-crunching John Wick films, but Replicas is much closer to his turn in the ridiculous remake of Sweet November: unintentionally hilarious and painfully off the mark. Reeves plays William Foster, a scientist whose name can be the source of your favorite new, wildly dangerous drinking game. When you see Replicas, every time a character says “William”, take a drink! Fun fact: you will be face-down drunk in a half-hour, because people address Reeves’ character as William often. Too often. So often that I began to wonder if these characters all suffered short-term memory loss and had to constantly remind each other what their names were.
But I digress. So, this scientist Reeves is playing (I believe his name is William, but I can’t be sure) is stationed in Puerto Rico, at a high-tech experimental medical facility called Bionyne where he’s working to replicate the human mind in a synthetic body. The experiments keep coming close to fruition, but failing just as the actual transference of mind to synthetic body occurs. William’s professional frustrations are coupled with a personal tragedy, as one night, he and his family are in a devastating car crash, from which he’s the only survivor. Good thing, though, that he works at a high-tech experimental medical facility and is experimenting with placing previously dead minds into new bodies! But instead of turning his wife (Alice Eve) and three children into robots with human minds, he works with a colleague (Thomas Middleditch) to literally clone them in his basement.
The immediate aftermath of the car crash is when Replicas begins to rear its insane head. William seems pretty distraught, until he calls the Middleditch character (whose name is Ed, and if you were wondering, “Do characters say Ed’s name a lot?”, the answer is a resounding yes) and decides to bring his family back. By the next morning, William and Ed have smuggled out a massively expensive amount of scientific equipment, including three cloning pods, into our hero’s basement. (You may have noted that William is one of five members of his family, leaving him one cloning pod short. This leads to the one moment when Reeves truly gets to emote his heart out, as William cries specifically because his favorite child is the one he chose at random to not get cloned. I guess he’d have been kind of OK not cloning one of his other kids?)
Genuinely, Replicas is a ridiculous excuse for a movie. It is, if you’ll permit the obvious comparison, a cinematic product that has the distinct, unnerving sense of having been made by robots. A number of scenes end with baffling non sequiturs, all the more so because it’s not entirely clear that they’re supposed to be funny. Then there are scenes, in Chad St. John’s script, that are potentially meant to be humorous. Take, for instance, the moment when William gets into a farcical situation where he has to pretend to be his wife and older children online to fool their friends and neighbors. This is, let me remind you, a farcical situation occurring roughly 30 minutes of screen time after they were all killed in a car crash. It would be weird enough without getting to see the image of Keanu Reeves typing “My bae???” into a chat window. (Yes, he uses multiple question marks.)
Among the many deeply strange things about Replicas is not that it references the films of Steven Spielberg, but that it goes out of its way to reference (on purpose or not) three specific Spielberg films all from the same period in the early 2000s. Much of the presentation of synthetic bodies calls to mind AI: Artificial Intelligence (and there’s one shot that quotes a blurry image from the 2001 film); when we see William transfer brain patterns to a synthetic body or human clone, he’s working off a swooping touch-screen image that’s like the tech in Minority Report; and there’s a weird call-back to the “Doctor, do you concur?” gag from Catch Me If You Can.
I know that Replicas itself was not made by robots. (I mean, I’m pretty sure.) There are real, live, honest-to-goodness actors here, also including John Ortiz as William’s awfully friendly boss. But just about every element of the film, from the special effects to the writing to the performances, is like watching a live-action version of the uncanny valley effect of animation. In an era of franchise, IP, remakes, revivals, and so on and so on, we ought to be happy to get a mid-budget sci-fi film that’s technically original. But Replicas is, like the creations being made by its hero, a weird, ungainly, and wildly unsuccessful hodgepodge of faintly recognizable ingredients.
/Film Rating: 2 out of 10
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from /Film https://www.slashfilm.com/replicas-review/