Keanu Reeves goes old school in retrograde sci-fi thriller
Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Thomas Middleditch, Alice Eve
’Member that time period between The Matrix Revolutions and John Wick when all Keanu Reeves did was star in a series of decreasingly visible direct-to-video features (The Lake House, Ellie Parker, Street Kings, Henry’s Crime, Man of Tai Chi, 47 Ronin)? Well, Replicas sure does. This doggedly nostalgic sci-fi thriller wants to take us back to the time when we all thought of Reeves as a questionably talented former A-lister who had yet to reinvent himself in a savvy series of cult films—much like Nicolas Cage in his post-Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance, pre-Mom and Dad/Mandy days (when junkers like Stolen, The Frozen Ground, Rage, Outcast, Dying of the Light, Pay the Ghost, Army of One and Arsenal slipped under everyone’s radar). Replicas also fondly recalls a period, not so long ago, when January was the theatrical dumping ground for all the cheap teenage horror flicks and janky sci-fi films Hollywood couldn’t find room for any other time of year. Oh! It’s also a throwback to that section of the mid-’90s when everyone was in love with the new CGI technology, but no one quite had the know-how or computing power to pull off particularly realistic special effects. Basically, all of Replicas feels like a film that somebody made and released 20 years ago—and is now releasing again because nobody remembers it. … Yeah, I’m not sure anyone involved in Replicas understands the point of nostalgia.
To give Reeves some credit, he’s undoubtedly the best part of this cheap little exercise in mad scientist cinema. He plays William Foster, a neuroscientist working for a giant biotech company. He’s developing some sort of top-secret project which maps out human neural patterns in the hopes of implanting them into synthetic brains and sticking them inside robot bodies (or some other nonsense involving “neurofibrillary tangles”). Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you’re looking at it), Foster’s struggling project gets a sudden and unexpected trial run when his entire family (wife, played by British actress Alice Eve, and three interchangeable kids) are killed in an automobile accident.
Heartbroken and determined as only a mad scientist can be, Foster decides to go full Dr. Frankenstein, enlisting the help of a colleague (Thomas Middleditch from “Silicon Valley”), who just happens to be working on another top-secret project in cloning. I think you can connect the dots from here. What follows is a preposterous string of bad decisions and a ton of meaningless technobabble. Of course Foster brings his family back (minus one for questionable dramatic reasons), but he opts not to tell them what happened (conveniently “deleting” their memories of the crash with a couple of keystrokes). Most of the conflict comes, however, when the scientists’ boss finds out what they’ve managed to accomplish and is determined to steal the technology for his own nefarious ends.
Written by Chad St. John (who gave us such action failures as London Has Fallen and Peppermint) and directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (who delivered an episode of “Chicago Fire” and two episodes of “Homeland”), Replicas is laden with gaping plot holes, questionable logic and unintentionally hilarious dialogue. (“You can’t just keep bringing people back from the dead until you have this stuff worked out,” warns Foster’s still-living wife early on—advice that the filmmakers surely should have heeded themselves.)
Reeves actually does what he can with the material, delivering more emotions than we would have once thought him capable. There are moments when you actually believe this guy will do anything to bring his family back. (At the very least, Reeves deserves kudos for delivering his dialogue with a straight face.) Everybody else fails miserably to act their way out of the paper bag that is this film’s script. (Eve seems near catatonic even before her robot-clone makeover, and Middleditch mostly looks like he’s searching for an exit to escape out of.)
Shot in Puerto Rico (back in 2016), but set mostly inside the main character’s generic suburban garage, Replicas feels more like a Syfy Channel “mockbuster” parody of a sci-fi film than an actual sci-fi film. The effects grow increasingly junky, and the whole thing devolves into a poorly staged string of chases scenes involving lots of interchangeable guys in black suits with guns by about the halfway mark. Amazing. It’s only January, and we already have a candidate for one of the worst films of 2019.