Replicas is about yet another scientist who can only see the science in things. William Foster (Keanu Reeves) sees humans only as a centerpiece to neurological entanglements and patterns, easy to bottle up and recreate. At least, in theory. William’s miscues in biosynthetic engineering are in line with those plaguing Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s Replicas: neither recognize humanity, not in William’s experiments, nor in this film’s, well, everything. The answer to William’s problems turns out not to need it, but Replicas could surely use some.
Within this lackluster world, in which human cloning is banned and the weather in Puerto Rico has deadly tendencies, William works for the ominous Bionyne Industries (a quick early shot of the boss man played by John Ortiz reveals the movie’s hand). In pure Robocop fashion, he and his team use “donors” – the war-torn corpses of young soldiers – to attempt, essentially, a nervous system copy and paste inside a goofy-looking, clear-cranium robot. The first trial we see takes up the film’s first scene, and ends with what William insists is a “breakthrough:” with the robot ripping itself to pieces in an existential crisis.
William then goes home to his wife, Mona (Alice Eve), and three kids – typical sassy teenagers Sophie (Emily Alyn Lind) and Matt (Emjay Anthony), and the young, vocabulary-stricken Zoe (Aria Lyric Leabu) – preparing to leave for vacation. On the road, a violent storm causes them to crash, and William awakes the lone survivor. Tossing aside the problematic “success” of his last trial and the qualms of his assistant and attempted comic relief Ed (Thomas Middleditch), the scientist attempts to complete a full body-and-mind cloning of his family.
To experience Replicas is to experience nothingness; its story resides down in the lowest and most unbelievable brinks of the science-fiction genre. Hardly relatable in its lead’s lifestyle (lucrative scientist living with his family in the jungles of Puerto Rico), his ploys (the ideas behind and executions of the science are asinine; it’s hilarious watching Reeves try and interact with the digital monitors in front of him), or his desperation (robotic performances all around make tears cringe-worthy and the familial bond farfetched), Replicas offers nothing of value; watching it is a pointless endeavor.
Relevance and poignancy could have been found, however, in the ethics of its unnatural science. Cloning, as I already mentioned, is possible and outlawed in this world and the desire to bring back the dead is also a long lasting moral dilemma in literature. But even though Mona does at first express disdain for her husband’s work, citing that there’s more to human beings than those aforementioned neurological entanglements, the relatively flawless and unpunished execution of the family’s rebirth on William’s end makes even that classic, almost cliché fable irrelevant.
Throw on top of that another uninspired performance by star/producer Reeves, and a weak collection of mechanic interactions (please try watching Reeves in a bathroom stall say “yes, it’s me” without laughing at its atrocity) and one-dimensional scientific mumbo-jumbo for a script, and you’ve got this mess. Somebody out there may find the ingredients for a cult classic in Replicas amongst the rat tails and beetle toes, but I’m sure most will find little to enjoy in this 100-minute disaster.
Replicas lacks vigor in its plot, intelligence in its science, depth in its ethics, and humanity all around. It’s a disaster.