Replicas has a solid and reliable sci-fi premise: a scientist who loses his family in a car accident does everything in his power to bring his loved ones back to life, no matter the cost. Who wouldn’t do the same thing if they had the technology to do so? How far would you go for family? With these morality questions at the forefront and science fiction tropes like cloning and transferring consciousness between different bodies, I was hoping for a great ride like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The 6th Day or even a small hint of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. However despite the great premise there’s a catch – Keanu Reeves is playing the scientist… and even though I’m a Keanu fan, he has a very narrow range of roles that suit him. Science isn’t one of them.
Replicas starts off with a failed experiment in a lab. Scientists Will Foster (Keanu Reeves), Ed (Thomas Middleditch) and a team of scientists attempt to transfer the consciousness of a dead soldier into the synthetic brain housed in a robot body, all under the sinister and watchful eye of Jones (John Ortiz). After the failure of the test, Will is pressured by Jones to produce results or else they will be shut down. Soon after this, Will takes his wife Mona (Alice Eve) and his three children, Sophie (Emily Alyn Lind), Matt (Emjay Anthony) and Zoe (Aria Lyric Leabu) on a drive for a holiday where they end up in a car accident resulting in the death of everybody except Will.
Instead of calling the police or an ambulance like any normal person would, Will instead enlists Ed to help him create clones of his family members in his home garage – and to dispose of the original bodies, naturally. However there’s a couple of problems with cloning his family members in the garage. Firstly, there’s only enough equipment to bring back three of the four family members so it’s time to draw names out of a hat – I’m serious, he randomly pulls a name from, well a bowl, not a hat. Secondly, Will hasn’t yet figured out how to successfully transfer consciousness between bodies.
So now the clock is ticking for him to figure out the correct algorithm to successfully transfer his family’s minds into their cloned bodies before the growth process is completed. After all, you can’t have four family members not show up for work and school without people taking notice.
Then there’s the problems the clones must deal with when their memories don’t properly align with the fact they’ve been ‘away’ for nearly three weeks. Adding to the confusion, Will deletes every trace of the one family member he couldn’t clone so the others wouldn’t notice them missing following their revival. Throw in Will bumbling his way with dealing with these issues and Jones revealing to be scene-chewing bad guy with ulterior motives and it all just ends up being very… silly. I won’t even comment on the so-called “science” in this film. It makes me shake my head.
And like many other films Keanu has acted in that have been outside that range he is suited for, Replicas reminds us that he simply cannot play a believable scientist or doctor, or anything requiring significant acting chops. I’m sure hardcore Keanu fans know and are fine with this (as long as he keeps delivering the occasional John Wick or Matrix blockbuster). To be fair to Keanu and his co-stars, they didn’t have much to work with. Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (Traitor), Replicas has a story that is so unnatural and illogical, so filled with cringeworthy dialogue I think even more emotive actors would have struggled to make this work.
There’s absolutely no chemistry between Keanu Reeves and Alice Eve (18 years his junior) whatsoever, watching them share scenes makes it hard to believe these two people produced three children or have any kind of believable long-term relationship. Their stiff, wooden performances turn pivotal moments meant to be taken seriously as comical, like when they discuss the morality of bringing people back to life or the big reveal Mona and the kids are actually “replicas”. It’s saying something that in a film about fake humans and robots both Reeves and Eve
John Ortiz is particularly cringeworthy with his cliched “villain-esque bad guy” portrayal of Jones. I was waiting for the reveal at the end that he might actually have been a robot, which might have explained his limited speaking range and constant “evil-ness”. Alas, that never happens. On any normal day I would have stopped watching this film but I was curious to see how much worse it could get. At least that’s one area it actually delivered.
Replicas wastes a great idea that could have been something interesting and even thought-provoking, had it only been handled better. There could have been empathy with the idea of losing someone and doing terrible things to bring them back – people understand the human drive to do the wrong thing out of love, but are also curious about new possibilities science brings. Instead, such an intriguing premise is tarnished by a ridiculous, nonsensical story that only highlights its terrible implementation and how awful the performances are.