Replicas review – Keanu Reeves fights to save brain-dead sci-fi thriller

The actor’s distinctive acting style is the only reason to watch this silly C-grade pulp filled with stilted dialogue and bad CGI

If you’re going to make a bad movie, the smartest thing you can do is hire Keanu Reeves to star in it. As of late, he’s been doing a lot of fine work with vision-driven directors’ understanding of his distinctive manner of performance – Ana Lily Amirpour, Nicolas Winding Refn, and the John Wick braintrust of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, to name only a few. But his bread and butter remains the C-grade sci-fi/action picture, a disreputable micro-genre defined by the mandate it places on its actors to deliver mounds of dialogue that might as well be in Esperanto with a straight face.

Reeves is made to say many silly things in the unstudied new film Replicas, and he says them all with the bone-deep conviction of a doctor informing someone that their loved one has died. When he growls, “boot the mapping sequence,” we believe that he needs the mapping sequence booted. No one knows what a mapping sequence is, or why it must be booted with such urgency, but his words have an underlying emotional truth that begins and ends with The Keanu Essence. His method is an emphatic nothingness, mesmerizing to watch flourish in a movie incompetent enough to count on him to carry it. Reeves should probably be above such fly-by-night gigs at this juncture of his career, but Replicas reaps the benefits of his generosity.

He’s just the man to carry a diet-Asimov story about unnaturally reconstituted bodies that is itself hideously forged from equal parts stagnation, implausibility, tedium and internal contradiction. Reeves dons the furrowed brow of a biomedical engineer as Will Foster, the harried genius who’s this close to cracking the secret to human-consciousness-to-robot-body transplantation, dammit! He’s still got to work out some kinks, but the wonky process gets an unexpected test run when a car crash claims his wife, probably named Wife (Alice Eve), along with his children, Child 1 (Emily Alyn Lind), Child 2 (Emjay Anthony), and Child 3 (Aria Lyric Leabu).

The same technology used to put person-thoughts in an electric shell can apparently be used to put a dead person’s brain in a clone of themselves, or maybe the clone comes pre-packaged with its old awareness, or maybe that Will and his sidekick Ed (Thomas Middleditch, riding the blockbuster wave past the neo-Godzilla franchise as far as it’ll take him) have achieved cloning in the first place is supposed to be the big deal. Either way, the next half-hour-plus consists mostly of narrative back-and-forth pacing while the bodies gestate, a stasis as torturous as waiting for an Easy-Bake Oven to turn a chocolate poultice into brownies.

Nobody could reasonably expect even a native speaker of English to make sense of all the quarter-baked ideas dribbled on to the pages of the script. All the audience really needs to know is that man has succeeded in permeating the lines of mortality, which has made Will and Ed’s boss (John Ortiz) mad for expectedly sketchy reasons, and so stakes have been established. Trust us, Reeves’s eyes reassure the viewer, there are stakes now. It is because he makes us want to trust him that Reeves is a talented actor, and because he must do this that Replicas is a defective movie.

Keanu Reeves in Replicas
Keanu Reeves in Replicas. Photograph: Francisco Collazo

The metaphor potential of carbon copies coming out braindead makes itself un-ignorable as the director, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, rips off John Frankenheimer’s seminal body-switch thriller Seconds, only for everything to go wrong. While I’ve never helmed my own high-concept genre feature, I’m pretty sure it’s in the best interest of the production to allow the CGI to finish rendering before sending the movie out to be shown in theaters. It’s no more amateurish than the acting coming from all non-Keanu Reeves cast members, who deliver the stilted language as if it might bite them on the tongue. After what may be one hundred hours, the film does not so much end as it stops, the score’s wrapping-up tone an evident substitute for closure or resolution. Even Tarsem Singh held himself to a slightly higher standard in his disastrous Frankenheimer duplicate, the inert Self/Less. In replicating a replication, Nachmanoff’s test subject came out missing a few key cranial lobes.

An evolutionary marvel, Reeves has figured out how to adapt to the hostile environment of mediocrity, and here he takes to the gobbledygook and gaps in logic like a genetically altered fish to water. When the guy’s good, he’s great, and when he’s bad, he’s still serviceable. If only anyone else involved could muster a fraction of the consummate professionalism that Reeves brings to his dead-serious intonation of the word “algorithm”, this DOA science project might have had a pulse.

  • Replicas is now out in the US with a UK date to be announced


Charles Bramesco

The GuardianTramp

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