Film Review: Replicas

Directed by: Jeffrey Nachmanoff; Runtime: 107 minutes
Grade: D

Largely due to the success of John Wick, we're in the midst of something of a Keanu Reeves revival, and I couldn't be more excited about that. In the right roles, which are often stoic or deliberately composed with doses of genuine, fiery emotion coming out of his character, he can deliver rather absorbing performances that hit just the right tones for certain styles of plotting. Worth remembering, though, during this time of celebrated revival, that he can just as easily be cast in the wrong parts that stretch his talents too thin and leave him feeling like an awkward presence … and that all his past films aren't immediately transformed into gems, like The Day the Earth Stood Still and 47 Ronin. Unfortunately, his latest attempt at science-fiction with Replicas goes down the rabbit hole and into the latter category: despite a few noble ideas involving the creation of artificial life and the willingness to incorporate dark humor, they get lost in this ideologically messy, tonally confused and logistically harebrained piece of work from Traitor director Jeffrey Nachmanoff that misuses Reeves' capabilities.

Dr. Will Foster (Reeves) heads a research initiative for the Bionyne Corporation based in Puerto Rico, in which he and his team concentrate on duplicating a person's consciousness and transmitting it into an autonomous robot body. Despite the groundbreaking advances they've made, Foster's team are coming up short in bringing the entire project fruition and are close to losing the company's financial support, if they can't deliver on its entire spectrum. After returning home to reflect on his project and spend some time with his family, an accident causes his wife (Alice Eve) and three kids to abruptly die. Working as a man of science and taking risks, Foster decides to take matters into his own hands and try to create Replicas of his family … yet, since his robotic technology isn't working properly, he attempts to test the furthest fringes of science by duplicating their consciousnesses and transferring them into real bodies. When the results aren't entirely spot-on, he copes with the consequences.

Replicas begins as a soft sci-fi exploration of how a person's thoughts, feelings, and all-around being could be channeled from their physical body into a mechanical one, tapping into an interesting spectrum of ideas when the consciousness may or may not handle its new, synthetic vessel. At the beginning, that's where the script makes one think they're headed, but the film shifts gears so quickly that it nearly gave me whiplash: to the cloning of human tissue, then shifting again into the rapid gestation of bodies, and then yet again by bridging those together with consciousness transferring. It takes some adjustment to roll with how far Foster has come with consciousness transference -- yet still a distance away from realizing it -- to suddenly embracing the full-on successful cloning of bodies. The science in Replicas ends up being too much crammed into one story and unable to be taken seriously, but it's also frustratingly contrived to be advanced at just the right levels for Foster's neuroscientific plans to come to life … and falter whenever the story needs tension or drama.

Long before Replicas haphazardly merges futuristic sciences, it strikes an odd chord in an unexpected area: with its dark humor. Now, I'm a firm believer that genre movies shouldn't take themselves too seriously, and that including moments of levity can elevate thrills or suspenseful drama by opening a figurative pressure valve, releasing some of the tension, and then letting the heaviness build up again. The humor needs to fit the circumstances, though, and the circumstances we're working with here are the deaths of a scientist's entire family, whom he cared for immensely; it might've been a different situation had he been a callous narcissist or something like that. When Foster jokes around with Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch on the same night that his family died in a pretty horrific and traumatizing way, it sends some mixed and unsatisfying signals about how these characters should be deciphered. The comedic timing between Reeves and Middleditch works fine enough as the more solemn, spread-too-thin research scientist and his edgier subordinate co-researcher, but the material simply comes across as out of place.

Through the boundless magic of science-fiction where the end could justify the narrative means, Replicas finds a way of getting Dr. Foster's family back on their feet … well, most of ‘em. At a certain point, the film essentially transforms into one long chain of gray moral dilemmas, engineered by the writers' self-imposed limitations on the plot and the preposterous advancements -- and success rate -- of the research being done at Bionyne Corporation. The dilemmas, and the suspense that branches off their repercussions, fail to rationalize the fantastical whirlwind of technobabble that got us to this point, introducing question after question about the general timeline, the stability of this advanced tech under less-than-ideal circumstances, and some exceptionally poor decision-making that has immediate consequences. These stumbles in practicality turn into critical distractions from the thought exercises brainstormed by the writers responsible for Replicas, and no, despite how good it is too see him again so soon, the bearded yet reticent attitude of Keanu Reeves isn't enough to salvage how it all happens.

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