Review, With Spoilers: Keanu Reeves's Bargain Bin Sci-Fi ‘Replicas’ Could Have Been Good-Bad, But It’s Just Regular Bad
Look, I’m not saying Keanu Reeves has to do this. But maybe he would like to meet in person to refund me $10 for my Replicas movie ticket? Because come on, man! I forever adore you! Why’d you have to do me this way?
Replicas is bad. I’m not surprising anyone with this, right? This is truly generic sci-fi filmmaking, a movie with many, many familiar ideas—taken from movies like Get Out and I, Robot and that movie Self/less with Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds, when Reynolds was still in post-Green Lantern purgatory. (That was a Tarsem Singh movie! That kind of bums me out to remember that!) Does Replicas do anything new or different, or offer up any impressive action sequences, or any unique CGI? No, no, and no.
So let’s just spoil this motherfucker! I will go into extensive plot analysis below, and by “extensive” I mean, give you all the details! We’ll have more fun this way. We’ll get through it together. We’ll deeply sigh “Oh, Keanu,” in unison.
[SPOILERS AHEAD SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS ALERT]
Replicas is set in Puerto Rico, at a hidden-away biogenetic research facility (shades of Jurassic Park), where neuroscientist William Foster works for the company Bionyne, heading up a team that is aiming to take the “neurological data” of a recently deceased person and then “imprint” it onto a synthetic body. (Kind of like that Johnny Depp movie Transcendence, where he uploaded his consciousness to the World Wide Web.) Foster has tried this dozens of times, and he finally reaches a step forward in his research—the synthetic body is able to verbalize “Who am I?”—but the brain and body haven’t yet truly synced.
This breakthrough isn’t enough for Will’s boss, Jones (John Ortiz), who threatens to shut down the program if Will can’t achieve transference with the current test subject, and the news about the synthetic body’s reaction isn’t received warmly by Will’s emergency room doctor wife Mona (Alice Eve), either. “If it could speak, then it could feel,” she says, and she’s frustrated with Will’s answer that the only thing that makes humans human is neurochemistry. “You have kids who love you and a wife who adores you, and we have a scientist,” she says, and would you believe they’re having marriage troubles?
Maybe a boat trip will repair the space between Will and Mona? So they load up their car with their three kids and start driving, but during the thunderstorm, Mona is impaled with a tree limb (right after they avoid an oncoming car and Mona says “That was close!”), Will crashes the car off an embankment into a body of water, and their three children drown. IT GETS DARK VERY QUICKLY. But instead of calling the police or alerting any authorities or doing literally anything legal, Will calls his research partner, Ed (Thomas Middleditch), who is aghast at what Will is suggesting: that he uses his headband neurological data thingy and extract all the memories and information from his family’s brains and then clone them.
Human cloning is weirdly totally easy in this movie! Will and Ed steal $6 million in supplies from Bionyne, set up a high-tech facility in Will’s basement, and then wait 17 days as the bodies of Will’s family members grow in a primordial ooze. That’s all it takes! But there is tragedy because Will only has enough pods to grow three family members, not four (he has to choose which family member to leave dead!) and sloppy writing because the movie kind of downplays the effects of Will not telling anyone his family is dead. (After Will decides which child he’s going to leave dead, he then just packs up all their belongings and puts them in their regular trash can. Dude! That is a treasure trove for criminologists! Is this movie suggesting Puerto Rico doesn’t have criminologists?)
So then there’s this Searching-like scene where Will logs onto his wife’s, daughter’s, and son’s laptops and cellphones, and the background photo of each of his kids’ phones is them with him, and REALLY? Does Mona not matter here at all? BOTH KIDS would prefer their dad, who is the parent the movie previously established was kind of checked out of their lives because of his obsession with his work? DOES NOT TRACK.
Let me skip forward an hour of movie for you: Will is able to grow the clones successfully, figures out how to imprint his family’s data onto the clones’ brains, and thinks he has his family back. Hooray! But then Will totally violates every ethical rule out there by going into his family members’ “neurological data” and erasing all memories of the other child he left dead, and the movie tells us he’s doing this with flashing text like “delete pathways and associations” as Will wears his headset thing. It’s a very low-tech presentation of something that is ostensibly super high-tech!
THERE’S MORE. Jones reveals Bionyne was never really a biotech company (“We’re not a biomedical company. My name isn’t even Jones” is actual dialogue!), and he knew Will had stolen the pods, and he is impressed by the successful cloning technology, and he wants the algorithm Will used to do it. (It always comes down to algorithms in these kinds of movies!) But now that Will has his family back, for the most part, he’s not going to give up (Keanu emotes hard to sell “I didn’t defy every natural law just to lose you again!”), so with Mona now aware that she and their children are replicas, they all go on the run.
But before that (I’M SORRY THERE’S A LOT OF PLOT STICK WITH ME), Will had performed the neurological data copying on HIMSELF, which entailed hooking up a headset doodad thing with a gigantic needle that gets POKED INTO YOUR EYE and “extracts information” out of it and what that looks like on a computer screen is just a bunch of green arrows whooshing out of your brain into the headset. It is hilarious! There is very dramatic, pulsing music as we watch Will type the word “execute”! So Will takes his own brain data and imprints it onto the synthetic brain of the robot they were working on, essentially cloning himself into this super-strong, super-durable body that for some reason also has Keanu’s voice! It results in this moment where human Keanu asks robot Keanu “What does it feel like?” and robot Keanu tells human Keanu “It feels like me” and I laughed out loud in the theater and I really wanted a drink.
How does this all wrap up? WELL, human and robot Keanu team up and threaten Jones, who dies, but then they bring him back to life, I think, by getting their hands on another pod and cloning him. Human Keanu leaves robot Keanu to do that while he reunites with his family and then finds and uses another pod to clone his daughter that he didn’t have a body for before, so now the whole family is reunited! It only took another 17 days to grow a human person! They’re all hanging out on a beach somewhere, living it up! And in Dubai, Hollywood’s favorite location now for depicting obscenely rich people, Jones and robot Keanu are offering up “a second lifetime” to a Middle Eastern man in a wheelchair. “What price can you place” on that opportunity, Jones wonders, and I guess it’s implied that he left Bionyne and is now running this black-market business with robot Keanu really pulling the strings.
That’s a lot! And none of it is handled very interestingly! The whole cloning experiment takes up the first half of the movie, but none of it has any drama—what if something had gone wrong with the clones? What if one of them came out “wrong”? What if they rebelled against Will instead of accepting that he was telling the truth? Screenwriter Chad St. John (WHO ALSO WROTE PEPPERMINT OH MAN THIS MAKES SO MUCH SENSE NOW) has a variety of opportunities to make this film more sinister and complicated than it is, but he whiffs on all of them. When Will gathers up the replicas of Mona and his kids to escape Jones, what if they had gotten into ANOTHER car crash that killed the three of them again? And Will then went crazy and tried to get his hands on another pod and replicate his other daughter, Pet Sematary style? That might have been derivative, but also kind of spooky! Or what if robot Will had turned against human Will? So many options, none of them pursued.
What Replicas ends up being is a movie that requires Keanu to spout a lot of science-y gobbledygook (“neuro-fibrillary tangles,” “theta kinetic,” “ocular transfer,” “viable cortex,” and the movie’s favorite recurring line, “Boot the mapping sequence!”) and Middleditch to serve as an expository character who is surprisingly willing to go along with Will’s insane plans and Eve is there, I guess. What if the script had replica Mona turn into the power player in her marriage, ushering Will and their children along as they ran from Jones? Or if Middleditch’s Ed had ended up being nefarious the whole time in a way that was actually sabotaging Will’s work instead of helping it? There’s this point where Will asks Ed if he’s “ready,” and Middleditch’s exasperated delivery of “Has that ever mattered?” cracks a genuine grin from Keanu, and it’s the only moment in the film that had any kind of emotional resonance at all. Replicas is bad, but it doesn’t even do us the favor of being good-bad. I mean, the movie opens with a CGI helicopter and a CGI Puerto Rican forest. I understand that I shouldn’t have expected much, but damn, I did expect more than Replicas turned out to be.
Although — Keanu does very blandly say “Wow” when he turns on his teen children’s cellphones and is bombarded with hundreds of missed calls, text messages, group chats, and other social media accouterments as he pretends to be them while he’s covering up their deaths! His bemused reaction did remind me of all these:
That was a good thing about Replicas! And that was about it. (Whatever happens with John Wick 3, at least it has to be better than this.)
Image sources (in order of posting): Epk.tv/Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, Epk.tv/Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, Epk.tv/Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures