I’ve stumped for Entertainment Studios hard in the past, but after Hurricane Heist, Chappaquiddick and now Replicas, I may need to reprioritize my loyalties. It’s almost inexplicable how this ended up getting a theatrical release when it looks for all the world like one of the dozens of Keanu Reeves movies you’ve never heard of that end up cluttering up the bottom of the $5 bin at Walmart. What about this feature sets it apart from all the rest? The superintelligent robots? Thomas Middleditch? The pig fetus-human hybrid clone people? I bet it was the pig fetus-human hybrid clone people.
Replicas pulls all the worst instincts from modern sci-fi storytelling and throws them all together in the hopes that somewhere in there the sheer force of the insanity unfolding on screen will be enough to keep us engaged. This ends up not being the case, though on a certain level, I have to give them credit for trying. It’s almost troubling how often the film comes close to touching B-movie greatness only for it to get lost in its own morass of murky, marble-mouthed philosophizing. What do we owe to each other? How far would you go to hold onto your family? Would you upload your brain into a robot? Would you turn your wife into a deteriorating brain-dead reanimated puppet? These are all questions we need to be asking ourselves.
The most surprising element here is that the filmmakers seem to be attempting to go full Shane Carruth with some of this stuff, tracing direct lines between how science and evolution can be intermingled to create and destroy life almost at will. Again, none of this really makes any sense or goes anywhere interesting. But beyond even the sci-fi and thriller angles, Replicas tries to pretend (for a while, anyway) that it’s really just a family melodrama, the story of a man grieving the loss of his family who will do anything to be reunited with them. This proves disingenuous at best since all of that goes off the rails every time Reeves has to put on his weird little mad scientist helmet.
We also need to remember that the entire plot hangs on a brilliant man whose story kicks off because of a dead woman. The cinematic obsession with dead and dehumanized women is nothing new, and I’m not the first person to point it out. But it deserves to be mentioned whenever we see it because it is genuinely distressing how often this passes as a plot motivator, especially in this type of genre material. The fact that the dead wife is immediately brought back to life is beside the point. We’ll no doubt get some sort of Get Out-style reworking and reclaiming of this trope at some point, but for now, it’s our job to at least acknowledge it.
My current working theory is that Replicas isn’t a movie at all, but is itself a replica of a movie. Much as Nolan introduced us to thinking we were watching one movie when we were really watching another, Replicas just might be its own brand-new, sentient form of entertainment. What appeared at first to be script problems and baffling directorial decisions are in fact the film evolving and growing and learning right before our eyes. I have no way of verifying this since I never plan to revisit it. Only time will tell.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, disturbing images, some nudity and sexual references. Now playing at Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.