Share: 

‘Replicas’ feels unfinished in several areas

January 19, 2019

A few years ago, I recall watching a sci-fi short film that was written completely by a machine using artificial intelligence.

Two NYU linguistics grads began feeding information into a computer, providing it with a number of tropes specific to the genre. The result was “Sunspring,” a rarely frightening, often unintentionally hilarious short film that vaguely held some of the genre conventions we have come to associate most with science fiction.

As a lark, a group of filmmakers decided to film it (the result is available online), and cast as its lead Thomas Middleditch, perhaps best known for his work on “Silicone Valley”  or shilling for Verizon as its current spokesperson. I am fairly certain that, at the time, Middleditch was unaware that “Sunsrping” would be the second-most-insane project in which he would be involved. 

Because now there is “Replicas,” a film so chintzy, so off-the-rails bonkers, and so narratively all over the map, the producers could have perhaps learned something from “Sunspring’s” AI computer scribe.

The fact that it stars Keanu Reeves is not too much of a shock, as his durable career has survived countless potholes along the way. The fact that Reeves serves as producer is surprising, since you’d think he had learned from his previous bumps in the road.

In “Replicas,” he plays William Foster, a brilliant scientist working for a biotech company looking to implant human brains in robots.

It’s a tale as old as Mary Shelley, but “Replicas” also wants to be a family drama, a buddy comedy, a tale of corporate greed, and a sci-fi thriller, all in about 90 loooooooong minutes. I’m curious as to why it was even released in theaters across the country, since it feels unfinished in a number of areas, from its ’90s-era CGI to its left-field shifts in tone and plot. 

It’s loony enough to be watchable, but only in a “stumbling-across-a-crime-scene” way, and never because of the intentions of the filmmakers or those on screen.

Reeves has endured in Hollywood when he is flipped into action mode, which explains why this year’s “John Wick” installment is one of the year’s most-anticipated films. However, when he’s left to exposition-heavy lines of dialogue, he’s rather limited. 

But Reeves’ inability to deliver drama is the least of the film’s issues once it gets moving. His plans to go boating with his family (including Alice Eve, who seems to be playing a replicant at the start of the picture) end in tragedy of which Foster is the sole survivor. Foster does what any self-respecting brilliant scientist would do: steals millions of dollars’ worth of equipment from his lab, sticks it in the basement, clones his whole family and re-maps all of their brains from the various devices they have used (cellphones, Xbox games, etc.). 

Sadly, he must make a Sophie’s Choice with one family member, as there “aren’t enough (breeding) pods.”

And if you think you may have a clue as to where things go from here, you would be one step ahead of the film’s writers, as things seemed to be made up on the fly, and narrative pivots unfold in an almost dreamlike fashion. 

To its credit, “Replicas” is never not entertaining, but it is also never good, even for a single frame. Instead, it unwinds like the rubber-band strand coiled inside a golf ball once the plastic casing is removed: bouncing and unspooling cavalierly, connected only by the slightest of bonds, leaving you wondering how it was even created in the first place. 

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and is lead entertainment writer for Influx Magazine. Email him at filmrob@gmail.com.