It’s not clear how far in the future Replicas is set since it takes place in a Puerto Rico that looks (from what little we see of it) remarkably pristine and free of the ongoing aftermath of Hurricane Maria. But that’s just one of the many vagaries that plague this threadbare little film, which essentially takes place in two locations and is packed with enough pseudo-scientific nonsense to sink even cheesy old TV shows like Lost in Space or Time Tunnel.
To be clear, we’re not sticklers for absolute scientific accuracy in our science fiction, as long as it makes reasonable sense and everything else is working. But Replicas doesn’t have that luxury. Keanu Reeves stars as William Foster, a brilliant scientist working for a stock biotech firm on a method to transfer a person’s consciousness into an android casing once their human body has died (a premise remarkably similar to Westworld Season 2). His big attempt to do this, however, fails miserably and violently when the consciousness — that of a dead soldier — rejects its cybernetic casing.
But the perils of all this wildly speculative research are barely mentioned when Foster loses his wife Mona (Alice Eve, recently seen on the now-defunct Iron Fist) and postcard-ready three children in a car accident on a storm-swept road (because there’s never a better time to head out on a family trip than at night in the middle of a violent rainstorm). It seems that Foster’s colleague, Ed Whittle (Thomas Middleditch) is working on his own experiments with cloning, so William has the bright idea to combine his consciousness transference business with Ed’s techniques to resurrect his dead family in the flesh.
The ethics and morality of all this is rehashed in repetitive dialogue between William and Ed, but never in a way that meaningfully plumbs the depths of their questionable actions, including stealing a truckload of equipment from the company they both work for. As a result, William grows new versions of his wife and two of his kids–one has to be “deleted” from the others’ memories because the two scientists only have limited time and access to just three pods, in which the rest of the family members marinate like home-brewed beer in William’s basement. When they eventually hatch in what appears to be just a few hours later, William attempts to pretend that nothing ever happened and makes his reconstituted family, with all their memories save those of their youngest sibling seemingly intact, do the same. But of course that doesn’t last very long.
Replicas unto itself seems like it was spliced together out of two or three different stories, and director Jeffrey Nachnamoff gives it a portentous tone that it doesn’t warrant or deserve. For one thing, Reeves cuts a much better figure in action-oriented pictures like The Matrix or the recent John Wick outings; casting him as a scientist and saddling him with loads of exposition in what fancies itself a more cerebral exercise just seems like a recipe for self-parodying disaster. Middleditch can’t bring much gravitas to the proceedings either and Eve’s way underwritten wifey is mainly there for decorative purposes.
All of them, however, are still professionals, but they got a raw deal with this soggy, barely cooked and shopworn material from screenwriter Chad St. John. A little Frankenstein here, a touch of RoboCop there, and a whole lot of paranoid conspiracy thriller in the third act makes the tedious Replicas live up to its title in a way that the filmmakers probably didn’t intend.
Replicas opens in theaters today, Jan. 11.
Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye