It’s never too early in the year for the first seriously silly sci-fi poppycock to crawl out of Hollywood.
“Replicas” takes that title this year, a banal, thinly-scripted thriller about an amoral scientist (Keanu Reeves) who loses his family in a car wreck, but “brings them back” because he has the technology at his disposal, some of the know-how, dealing with neural pathways and transferring the contents of one brain to another — and an easily-bullied colleague (Thomas Middleditch, best known as a TV pitchman these days) who is a master of cloning.
Virtually everything about this is ridiculous, from its setting — high tech Puerto Rico, which has suffered no debilitating hurricane or criminally inadequate federal response — to the “Let’s skip over that” nature of much of the beyond-cutting-edge science, to the way Reeves and Middleditch try not to crack each other up as they cash gullible Entertainment Studios’ checks and never quite figure out of if they’re playing this as cult comedy — “We’re going STRAIGHT to Hell!” — or straight up B-movie.
All that good that Reeves did his rep with the “John Wick” movies unravels in a performance that requires him to order “Proceed,” and “Do you concur?” to subordinates, as if this is the way humans actually talk, even in a no-safety-procedures privately-funded cloning and human mind transference lab run by the shady Bionyne Ltd — no doubt with lots of tax incentives money to help.
Reeves plays William Foster, who can’t quite make this business of mapping, recording and then transferring the contents of the human brain to a “synthetic”robot work.
He’s obsessed with it, and not just because his not-scary-enough boss (John Ortiz) is running out of patience and budget.
“Would you like a nice reference letter?”
Foster’s wife, Mona (Alice Eve) is a doctor who relocated with him and their three kids to hurricane-proof Puerto Rico, and she’s worried that he’s losing his ability to tell right from wrong. Playing God does that to a scientist — makes him a Mad Scientist.
He insists we’re all just “chemistry” and “neural pathways.” She’s talking about “the soul.”
Sure enough, a car accident tests her thesis and his ability to end his string of failures, as he meekly strong-arms his cloning lab pal Ed (Middleditch) into hiding the accident, disposing of the bodies and setting up a lab where they can clone and then mind-transfer that lost family.
Reeves has to play the “Sophie’s Choice” moment of this sequence — there are not enough “pods” to clone his entire family. It is not a pretty moment, on the script page or in Keanu’s clumsy hands. Much of the movie has him using a VR helmet as a computer interface, waving his hands about as he cuts and pastes and “maps.”
Middleditch aims to be comic relief with his line readings. How’s the 17 day cloning operation coming.
“They’re a foot taller!”
“Hey, let’s pump the brakes on the crazy talk, here.”
A lot of stuff aside from the science — selectively erasing memory is also touched on — is sort of skimmed-over here. Covering up the death of your family is a complicated thing, fraught with ways you can be found out, as any given week’s “Dateline NBC” will tell you.
You may bring the lovely Alice Eve, still totally “Out of Your League,” back to life. But will she be a Stepford Wife?
A review is, by nature, a collection of evaluations of what a writer, director and actors have done right and ways you’d wished they’d done better. But “Replicas” leaves one at a loss as to possible “fixes.”
It opens with what’s supposed to be shocking and scary, and moves to what should play at tragic, sympathetic, dire and emotional. And Chad St. John’s script, Jeffrey Nachamoff’s direction and Reeves’ performance just don’t deliver.
The movie is like Bill Foster’s mad experiment, a dry technical exercise with a functioning heart, but no soul whatsoever.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, violence, disturbing images, some nudity and sexual references
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, Thomas Middleditch, John Ortiz
Credits: Jeffrey Nachmanoff, script by Chad St. John. An Entertainment Studios release.
Running time: 1:47