While coverage will continue on 2018 films as we get closer to the Oscar Blitz, that doesn’t mean we get to sleep on the actual new releases that officially ring in the 2019 year in film. The first entry for this new year is Replicas, starring Keanu Reeves, released by Entertainment Studios, who let’s just say doesn’t have a strong track record at the cinemas so far. In two years distributing films, the closest things they’ve put out to anything good and successful were the odd man out at last year’s Oscars, Hostiles, and the infuriating Chappaquiddick.
So the combination of a lackluster distributor and the fact that January is usually a dumping ground for films that studios have little to no faith in does not bode well for this movie right from the off, to the point that I was tempted to sort of grade it on a curve, highlighting some more positive elements while ignoring or forgiving some of the drawbacks. Unfortunately, this steaming pile of shit gave me no such opportunity, being an almost complete train wreck of horrible from beginning to end.
Reeves has bought himself a few mulligans after the success of the John Wick movies, his transformation from slack-jawed wunderkind to middle-aged badass a welcome evolution. Sadly, he’s going to have to take one of those passes here, because while his performance could be charitably described as earnest, it’s a bad omen when he’s the least wooden member of the cast.
Starring as William Foster, a bio-engineer stationed in Puerto Rico, Reeves and his team attempts to transplant the brains of recently deceased soldiers into the mechanical brain of an android. If you think we’re getting an update on I, Robot, perhaps with some delightful Alan Tudyk motion capture, you are in for a vast disappointment.
Right off the bat, we have to deal with a LOT of sci-fi bullshit. The “donor” bodies have suffered complete cardiac arrest due to some sort of mortal wound, and are then transported to Puerto Rico via helicopter to participate in this experiment. It’s noted that waivers have been signed, so presumably the soldiers know what they’re getting into. However, before we even start we’ve run into the impossible. A study published last February shows that a human brain could be “rebooted,” for lack of better term, anywhere between three to five minutes after oxygenated blood has stopped flowing to it. These donors are a minimum half hour away by chopper, as is noted late in the film. Some might argue that this is futuristic technology, and is therefore not held to modern standards, to which I again say bullshit, because there is a plethora of evidence to suggest the film takes place in the here and now, from text messages, to personal computers and phones, to shoehorned product placement for cars and other modern stuff. It is literally impossible to save a brain that long after the heart has stopped.
But whatever, suspension of disbelief. After a contraption stabs the corpse in the eye to make a copy of all of its knowledge and memories – an action you as an audience member may be tempted to do before long – Foster waves his hands on a virtual reality wall in a shameless ripoff of Minority Report, and deposits the data into the android’s electronic brain. Upon waking the android, it sees that it’s a machine, panics, and self-destructs, complete with utterly impossible because it has no lungs hyperventilating. One would think that by signing a waiver to participate, the soldiers would understand that they’ve been transferred into a robot, but somehow the experience is very shocking.
Faced with losing his funding from his dick boss (John Ortiz), who constantly calls him Bill (I don’t know how to feel about that, other than the fact that him calling Reeves Bill while everyone else says William is just a weird sort of power move), Foster decides to take his perfect family – three adorable children and wife Alice Eve – on a weekend boat trip while the boat’s owner, William’s assistant Ed (Thomas Middleditch) watches the house. On the way to the marina, day turns to night, sunlight turns to torrential thunderstorms, and a horrible yet predictable car crash ensues, killing everyone but William.
Stricken by grief and unable to cope with the loss of his family, William enlists Ed, who has been experimenting with animal cloning as a means to transplant brains, to create human clones of his family, so he can transfer their brains into new hosts and resume life as normal. In the first of many, “Wait, why would we do this?” moments, Ed notes that he only has three “pods” to grow clones, so William will have to choose one family member to stay dead. He puts his three kids’ names – Sophie, Matt, and Zoey – into a hat, and draws one out. Back in the theatre, I am initially angry because the decision will be obvious because of the tacked-on pathos early in the film, and then I chuckle because he’s making a Sophie choice.
To the surprise of none, there are myriad complications in the process (relying on Puerto Rico’s electric grid to maintain the experiment, which, too soon), the eventual clones have issues (I have nightmares about dying, daddy!), and of course there’s some massive government/military conspiracy to use the technology for nefarious purposes, leading to an utterly baffling climax that leaves so so so many more questions than it answers, not the least of which is, “The special effects team does know it’s 2019, right? How is this CGI so shitty?”
There are hints, sparks even, of some good stuff worth exploring here. Just how far would you go to save your family? How does a mad scientist cope with unfathomable loss? To what extent should we “play God” with technology? Could a brain eventually be preserved and transferred to the point where we defeat mortality? All of this could have been looked at, and maybe, just maybe a good movie could have come from it. But it’s all just left to the side in service to some of the worst acting and story you could imagine.
Take for example the two main supporting characters. Alice Eve is a wonderfully talented actress, and in this film, she conveniently plays a cardiologist. But instead of having scientific ethical discussions, she questions her husband on whether or not the soul exists. Also, is it kind of insulting that this 36-year-old woman is somehow a mother of three, including two teenagers? Just a few years ago she was often cast as a sexpot in films like She’s Out of My League and Star Trek Into Darkness. Then she turns 30 and now she has to be a middle-aged mom? What the hell? And even then, the film tries to work in some gratuitous fan service. When the clone version of her is ready, her pod is drained, and Reeves and Middleditch remove her naked-but-covered-in-protoplasm body from the container, the camera taking care that we see as much as possible without ever guaranteeing an R-rating for an exposed nipple. I mean, two guys and an oiled up Alice Eve beats my fanfiction, but why?
Then there’s Thomas Middleditch. He’s a funny actor who certainly has a niche, but I think at this stage we’ve hit the saturation point with him. Between this and all the shitty Verizon commercials and who knows what else, I couldn’t even get into Silicon Valley last season, and I love that show. But even despite that, most of Ed’s role is to just offer the “duh” moments that repeatedly call into question why anything in this movie is actually taking place. Hey, it takes 17 days to make a clone! You think maybe you need to think of an alibi for why your kids aren’t in school during that time? And do you wonder if maybe the kids might ask why they can’t remember the past two and a half weeks? Just because the film is PG-13 doesn’t mean that a 13-year-old should be able to rip its logic to shreds.
But between the two of them, they simply react to Keanu Reeves and for some reason, match his “I know kung fu” line-reading style, and it’s cringeworthy. This film could have been a modern Frankenstein, but instead it’s just a lab assistant and a clone reacting to the manic, delusional actions of a man who is stuck in a grief spiral but who also won’t actually do anything about it other than order other people around, as if he’s trying to give himself some degree of plausible deniability. Throw in a ton of continuity errors and visual goofs (for example, a readout display says the clones are 50% ready when the meter right below the number is nowhere near the halfway mark), half-assed action sequences, and nonsensical twists that inexplicably prolong the ending, and you’ve got the first pure dud of the new year.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What movies are you looking forward to in 2019? Should Entertainment Studios change its name to something more dynamic, like Programming Distributor? Let me know!