Some science fiction movies only wish to entertain. Some science fiction movies present as lectures gussied up with some speculative elements. Others still look like the first and subtly present ideas you might find in the second as subtext or symbolism. And then we have science fiction movies like REPLICAS who chose all and none of those paths all at once. Does the movie pull off being everything to everyone?

REPLICAS- Will Foster
Keanu Reeves studies a holograms in a scene from REPLICAS. (Courtesy of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures)

The Idea Behind REPLICAS

Will Foster (Keanu Reeves) is a scientist on the bleeding edge of biotech development. He works in a lab alongside co-workers like Ed (Thomas Middleditch) who has perfected cloning technology for animals. Ed has gotten so good at it, in fact, he has taken cloning to the next step. Now he also can grow his clones to the same chronological age as the original animals. Foster’s project, on the other hand, appears to be dragging a bit. The transference of consciousness from dead soldiers to robots has repeatedly gone awry.

The consciousness seems to be captured and moved but moments later, the robot rejects its passenger. Soon it literally rips itself apart. Foster’s boss Jones (John Ortiz) makes it clear that one more failure will result in the whole company going under. Despite having all the markers of a cinematic workaholic dad, Will has taken off the weekend to have a fun time at sea with his wife Mona (Alice Eve), and their three kids Sophie (Emily Alyn Lind), Matt (Emjay Anthony), and Zoe (Aria Lyric Leabu) in Ed’s boat.

Unfortunately, en route, tragedy strikes when a storm improbably sends a tree branch through the car’s windshield. Foster, perhaps a bit shattered by trauma and grief, refuses to accept that death is the end and attempts to “resurrect” his deceased family members with a combination of his brain transfer project and Ed’s cloning technology. Things get complicated, quickly.

REPLICAS: Mona
Alice Eve gasps when she realizes she is in REPLICAS. (Courtesy of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures)

Writing REPLICAS

Despite probably never had a chance to be a prestige science fiction movie, REPLICAS showed promise early on. The script by PEPPERMINT scribe Chad St. John from a story by Reeves’ man Stephen Hamel has a brainy b-movie vibe in its first act. It feels like it might be a movie who’s philosophical underpinnings prove far more interesting than its fairly standard special effects or plot structure.

For instance, initially the screenplay either directly asks or suggests big questions about humanity and when we should rein in science. Mona, a doctor, for instance, questions whether her husband’s theory that humans are only their brains and their chemical and electrical impulses is perhaps too simplistic and ignores the soul. She also questions if Will’s work might go too far, bringing further agony to his “volunteers”.

It’s an interesting challenge as it places him in something of a bind. If we have a soul, is salvaging and transferring just the neurological energy a sort of crime against spirituality? If we don’t, is his repeated failures to successfully transfer consciousness between expired flesh and blood and cold steel a sort of torture? In a lot of ways, REPLICAS seems to be chasing a sort of modern FRANKENSTEIN vibe.

Don’t worry though, it is all just pretty set dressing. REPLICAS quickly tosses aside its brain for a series of quickly abandoned tone shifts including silliness, unsettling creepiness, spy machinations, gauzy magic hour comfort food, and a coda that I think is supposed to play as a kind of “sure that happened, but at what cost” punchout. REPLICAS can’t decide on which note it wants to play, so it slams on them all in random order.

REPLICAS- Bedside
Keanu Reeves keeps an eye on Alice Eve in a scene from REPLICAS. (Courtesy of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures)

Casting The Lead of REPLICAS

Reeves is a reliable leading man at this point. Gone are both the days of him being portrayed, inaccurately, as a talentless, witless performer. Gone, also, are the reconsideration days, where suddenly contrarians were floating him as some kind of thespian genius. The fact is Reeves has a wheelhouse and when he operates within it, he can be incredibly effective. The reason the tonal shifts rattle the film but do not literally shake it to pieces lie with him. Whether it is pretending to be his daughter online to blow off a potential suitor in one of the movie’s more egregiously under baked attempts at humor or beating a man unconscious with some computer tech, Reeves manages to convince us both could be actions his character would conceivably take.

REPLICAS- ED
Thomas Middleditch nails a lean in a moment from REPLICAS. (Courtesy of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures)

Casting the Rest of the Callsheet

Alice Eve does worse with the tonal shifts, mostly because her character is written to shift as well. While Reeves’ Will still “feels” the same across actions. The movie might careen bizarrely between him awkwardly trying to shake one of his kids’ teacher’s prying questions and sadly erasing a crayon drawing from the table but his personality traits remain recognizable. Eve’s Mona, on the other hand, feels written to shift with the tone. Is this the creepy part of the movie? Suddenly Mona feels like she might be connected to something dark and wicked.

Is it the spy/action portion of the film? Great! Now Mona knows how they can deactivate subcutaneous trackers and is propelling her family along through tightly clenched teeth. Eve hits the beats but when the movie keeps changing what they want her to be, it leaves her unable to give the character a consistent center.

Middleditch proves fine as the jokey, freaking out sidekick. He and Reeves had good chemistry and it feels a little bit too bad the movie did not make better use of that. John Ortiz’s pushy unpleasant Jones works well as the bottom line boss who cares nothing for the science only the potential for profit. Events in the third act paint him in a different light, however, but Ortiz has dug too deep into Jones to move with it. As a result, he never comes across as ruthless or dangerous as the movie needs him to be.

REPLICAS: Jones
John Ortiz wants you to take a look at his gun in REPLICAS. (Courtesy of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures)

Filming of REPLICAS

Much like in his last feature film, TRAITOR, Jeffrey Nachmanoff proves a canny enough director to ape the visual palettes of other films. The movable holographic screens and cold blues of MINORITY REPORT inform all of the lab scenes. The warm yellows that fade as trouble presents itself in the home scenes, as well as the dutch angles employed during those moments, feel pulled forward today from forgotten horror films of the mid-’90s like HIDEAWAY. It gives a viewer a competent enough experience, but it feels a bit empty. Like Will’s robots, the movie might be able to imitate those other films but it lacks the energy, the animus, of them.

REPLICAS- Zoe
Keanu Reeves checks on Aria Lyric Leabu’s temperature. (Courtesy of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures)

That’s a Wrap!

REPLICAS exists as the kind of movie that raises lots of interesting — if oft-asked — questions and then immediately ditches them rather than explore or, god forbid, try to answer them. It is something akin to talking to a progressively more stoned friend. At first, all they want to do is talk about our place in the universe. Two hours later, they are pouring nacho cheese directly into their mouths and asking you to remember this one movie they saw on HBO all the time growing up. I would not call it soulless because that implies a certain egregiousness, a kind of monstrousness that REPLICAS does not deserve. It is something of a demon and more of a homunculus. It looks the part, it can fool you for a moment or two, but ultimately it is impossible not to notice it is just an empty vessel.

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