Replicas movie review: Keanu Reeves' film is a hot, fuzzy mess that frustrates more than it entertains

Replicas abandons its wild B-movie ideas for generic twists and turns

Anupam Kant Verma January 19, 2019 12:36:13 IST


Replicas is the closest you’ll come to witnessing a Hollywood movie slowly, gradually and painfully losing its mind. En route, it will remind you of dozens of different, mostly far superior films. It will occasionally sprout ideas, some borrowed and blasé, others terribly promising, only to abandon them in favour of generic twists and turns. It will go from the regulation to genuinely engaging, sometimes near moving, before going completely off the rails and ending up as a hilarious, popcorn spilling B-movie mess. It is the most filigreed, pain-inducingly ambitious disaster one can imagine viewing in a theatre. Oh and it has Keanu Reeves in the lead role of a mad scientist who brings back his family from the dead.

Replicas movie review Keanu Reeves film is a hot fuzzy mess that frustrates more than it entertains

Replicas promotional banner. Image via Twitter

Reeves plays Will, a scientist employed by a bio-medical company’s Puerto Rico office. Ed (Thomas Middleditch) is his closest friend, colleague and cloning expert who’s helping Will realise his dream of transferring consciousness from a dead body to a robot, thereby cheating death. Unsurprisingly, Will keeps failing at the last hurdle, the confused robots going into self-destruct mode right after the transfer. Jones (Joe Ortiz), his boss, like all bosses in films, represents the foil of money — and annoyance — to Will’s creativity, pushing him as hard as he can.

Replicas lays out everything described above in a Wikipedic manner before abruptly moving into what it really cares about. Will’s family dies in an accident. Instead of letting go, he pulls in Ed to help him bring them back to life. A curious amalgam of cloning and neuro-transference follows, stirring up a cauldron where various genres and styles are mixed with a smattering of canted angles and consistently worsening acting performances.

Evidently, Replicas had all the ingredients for a wild and hilarious B-movie. But director Jeffrey Nachmanoff and writer Chad St. John—him of London Has Fallen fame — had other ideas.

They combine their respective talents to create a film that wears its crisis of identity like a badge. The moment you think you know where this is going, especially for a film that started out plenty predictable in the first place, they surprise you by throwing a spanner in the works, abruptly shifting tones into the awfully serious, before abandoning that altogether to mount a ridiculously bland car chase. In what should definitely be a first, the film’s steadily mounting count of twists and turns is engineered to render it more and more predictable.

Now that should definitely qualify it as being worthy of a great B-movie. I mean, here’s a film that starts with a dead body being rolled into a lab full of people. Reeves, who’s been established as someone who wants to transfer the consciousness of a deceased person to a robot, regards it solemnly and says out loud, “This is a dead man.”

But the cumulative effect of the director and writer’s machinations leads to a film that wishes to frustrate as keenly as it wants to entertain and engage. If this is to be construed as a supremely subliminal critique of the fundamental idea of cloning and transfer of consciousness —the film’s core idea —well, then Replicas definitely demands reverence for being anti-itself.

However, that’s not the case. Replicas is a hot, fuzzy mess that throws a sackful of ideas into a chamberpot alongside a visibly confused Reeves, chooses to disengage from all of them the moment their gravity shows its face, and devolves into random violence and car-chases before ending on a crass, unethical note.

Before it began losing sight of itself, it had sprung the potential to transform into a tenderly observed examination of love, memories and shifting identities. Will’s obsession with reviving his family could have resulted in a searching story of love’s often fatal flirtations with mania. Replicas could have been a profoundly human film about our endless quest to master nature when faced with the prospect of our loved ones’ final extinguishment. If nothing else, it could have at least been a fun B-movie.

Sadly, barring the vicarious pleasure of witnessing Keanu Reeves play an entire movie by ear and a gloriously absurd finale featuring a robot in a suit, Replicas is simply a massive waste of immense potential. Like the robots from the beginning of the film, the moment it has our attention, it chooses to self-destruct. Again and again and again.

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