Friday, January 11, 2019

In Theaters: REPLICAS (2019)

(US/UK/China - 2019)

Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff. Written by Chad St. John. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, Thomas Middleditch, John Ortiz, Nyasha Hatendi, Aria Leabu, Emily Alyn Lind, Emjay Anthony, Amber Rivera. (PG-13, 107 mins)


The sci-fi pastiche REPLICAS arrives in theaters in the second week of 2019 adorned with all the tell-tale signs of an ignominious January dump-job that should've gone straight-to-VOD: multiple bumped release dates after playing everywhere else in the world last fall; a 2017 copyright; bush-league CGI that can charitably be described as "unfinished;" a script that's a hodgepodge of half-baked ideas shamelessly stolen from at least a half-dozen other, better movies; and a slumming star who seems mildly irritated that his paid vacation is being interrupted by work. Filmed way back in 2016 in a pre-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico, REPLICAS stars Keanu Reeves as Dr. William Foster, a scientist working for Bionyne, a top secret research facility in San Juan, where he moved his family after securing funding for his life's work: perfecting the transfer of neural energy and memories of the recently dead into "artificial" androids that look suspiciously like Sonny, the title character from I, ROBOT. The results haven't been promising thus far--every time an android wakes to find themselves in a new robotic body, they freak out and tear themselves to pieces. Foster's bottom-line, profit-obsessed boss Jones (John Ortiz) tells him the clock is ticking for results but, like all movie scientists in these situations, Foster insists he's "this close" to success. Work concerns don't stop him from taking a trip with the family--his wife Mona (Alice Eve), teenage daughter Sophie (Emily Alyn Lind), son Matt (Emjay Anthony), and young daughter Zoe (Aria Leabu)--and as soon as Mona says "Maybe we should pull over" during a torrential downpour on a dark, twisty road, they crash into the ocean and everyone is killed except for Foster.

The Asylum presents
Giving it little thought, Foster calls Ed (the perpetually grating Thomas Middleditch of HBO's SILICON VALLEY and entirely too many Verizon TV commercials), a Bionyne colleague who's working on human cloning. Ed meets him at the scene of the accident and, with little convincing, goes along with Foster's risky plan to upload the neural energy of his dead family and use Ed's cloning techniques to fashion new, synthetic human bodies for them like nothing ever happened (at this point, you may wonder why, if Ed can create human-looking bodies, Foster wasting his time with robotic, herky-jerky androids, but then you'd be putting more thought into REPLICAS than the filmmakers did). To do so requires massive, water-filled pods that cost $1 million a piece, but Ed somehow manages to swipe them from Bionyne with nobody noticing. Ed only has three pods, so Foster picks a name out of a bowl to make the SOPHIE'S CHOICE decision of who doesn't get cloned. It's Zoe, which also requires that he tweak the program to erase all memories of her from the rest of the family. Per Ed's instructions, they have to incubate in the pods for exactly 17 days and a backup generator is required because the pods can't be without power for more then seven seconds. No problem, as Foster finds an impromptu backup power source for his basement lab by stealing about 20 batteries from all the parked cars in the neighborhood and the cops don't seem to think it's weird that his SUV was the only vehicle whose battery hasn't gone mysteriously missing. Of course the family is "reborn." Of course they're confused and awkward and gradually start having flashes of their past memories. And of course,  an irate Jones comes sniffing around after Foster goes absent at work for long stretches as he finds it increasingly difficult to keep his activities secret from both his family and Bionyne.

Reeves either executing the memory cortex
or initiating the neural implant. 
REPLICAS is such an utterly incoherent, illogical mess that it makes TRANSCENDENCE look good. How exactly does Foster intend to sell the idea of Zoe never existing to, oh, I dunno, everyone who knows the family? Its idea of science is just to have Reeves blurt out of bunch of gobbledygook exposition that a) his research team should already know, and b) is ultimately just him gravely and unconvincingly blurting Philip K. Dipshit-sounding buzzwords like "Stasis modality!" and "Execute the memory cortex!" and "Initiate the neural implant!" while he dons a virtual reality headset and starts emphatically conducting a symphony in front of a MINORITY REPORT holographic screen to transfer the memory and brain energy, which, when it finally occurs, looks about as complicated as downloading a song from iTunes. The details are inconsequential, and so is everything else, especially after numerous nonsensical plot turns where it seems the filmmakers--Jeffrey Nachmanoff, a busy TV director helming his first feature since 2008's TRAITOR, and LONDON HAS FALLEN co-writer Chad St. John--aren't even paying attention to their own movie. Some of the gaping plot holes might be by design, but the third act is so rushed, disjointed and thrown-together that I'm still not sure what happened, other than Foster implanting his memory into an I, ROBOT android as both Keanu and a RoboKeanu take on Jones' goons, which might be fun if we had any clue why the hell it was even happening.

Reeves is sleepwalking through this, though one can hardly blame him. Between this and VOD duds like EXPOSED, THE WHOLE TRUTH, THE BAD BATCH, and SIBERIA, it's clear that the JOHN WICK franchise is the only thing keeping him from forming an unholy alliance with John Cusack and Bruce Willis('s double) at your nearest Redbox kiosk. There's so many directions this could've gone and been a much more interesting, entertaining film. Reeves can't even muster a "Whoa!" but someone like Nicolas Cage would've recognized the absurdity of the premise and brought a manic, batshit energy that would've done a lot to sell it, especially the scenes where Foster has to keep up the ruse that his family is still alive, texting his kids' friends and e-mailing the principal to tell them they've decided to homeschool. Another more interesting idea would've been to have Mona and the kids already be cloned replicas and then gradually find out as the film goes on. Instead it winds up as a BLACK MIRROR episode that might as well be titled I, MINORITY RECALL. REPLICAS swipes so much from other movies and TV shows that you can't fault its upfront honesty with its truth-in-advertising title. It also feels like it was frozen in 2002 and just now thawed out by comedian Byron Allen's dubiously-monikered Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, a company that would've been the next Freestyle Releasing were it not for them having an accidental hit with the Weinstein cast-off 47 METERS DOWN. Allen specializes in acquiring long-shelved lost causes and somehow releasing them on 2500 screens, and while he accidentally stumbled on a good movie with 2017's underappreciated HOSTILES, blind luck can't be a sustainable business model, and with barely-VOD-worthy duds like FRIEND REQUEST, THE HURRICANE HEIST, and now REPLICAS, it's hard telling how much longer he's gonna be able to keep the lights on. Oh, wait. 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED is out this summer.

No comments:

Post a Comment