'Replicas': Film Review

Mad scientist movies don't come any cheesier.

Keanu Reeves plays a scientist intent on cloning his dead family in this sci-fi thriller also featuring Alice Eve and Thomas Middleditch.

In the opening scene of the new sci-fi thriller Replicas, a male corpse is wheeled into a laboratory. Will Foster, the chief scientist played by Keanu Reeves, announces to those assembled that the body is dead and that they're about to transplant his brain into a robot. You know, just in case they hadn't gotten the memo or had somehow wandered in off the street. After the procedure is completed, and just before Will can scream "It's alive!," the newly revived being reacts in horror and begins to tear at its own body. It won't take long for viewers of this unintentional laugh fest to feel the same way.

In the next scene, Will describes the scientific mishap to his wife Mona (Alice Eve). Her reaction is one for the books. "You can't just keep bringing people back from the dead until you have this stuff worked out," she points out with less urgency than a wife reminding her husband to remember to put the toilet seat down.

Not long afterward, the couple embark on a road trip with their three young children, improbably heading toward their destination in the middle of a stormy night. Cue the inevitable car crash, with Will the only survivor. After carefully laying out the dead bodies on the side of the road, he calls not the police but rather his dedicated co-worker Ed (Thomas Middleditch). Will's plan is to clone his family members and make identical replicas, although he doesn't have enough pods. Darn it, one of them will have to go. Ed demurs when asked to pick a name out of a bowl, although he has no problem agreeing to Will's request that he get rid of the bodies.

By this time, you've come to suspect that screenwriter Chad St. John is playing an elaborate joke on the audience, or at least trying to sneak in laughs under director Jeffrey Nachmanoff's nose. The theory only seems more likely when Will asks Ed how the clones are progressing, since they take 17 days to incubate. "They're a foot taller," Ed informs him, looking vaguely annoyed at having to give a progress report.

As you may have guessed from the film's title (or the fact that Alice Eve is prominently billed in the credits and isn't likely to disappear in the first few minutes), the experiment is successful. Will soon has his family back; well, most of them, with the others' memories of the youngest daughter conveniently deleted. The two men are naturally thrilled by the results. "Hey, we made clones today!" Ed exults, sounding like he's finally perfected his recipe for bundt cake. But as anyone who has seen mad scientist movies can guess, complications are likely to ensue. Especially since Will's officious boss (John Ortiz), who keeps threatening to shut the operation down, is clearly up to no good.

Replicas manages to be perversely entertaining for its fast-paced first half, if only because of the sheer absurdity of its storyline. But it eventually devolves into tedious thriller tropes, including Will and his family being pursued by bad guys, wearing identical black suits, who look like they're auditioning for a road company of Reservoir Dogs.

If there were any doubts about Reeve's acting ability, they're erased by his managing to get through the endlessly silly proceedings with a straight face. Not that he's actually good in the film, mind you, since he plays the role of a man desperate to bring his family back to life with his usual one-note slackness that only seems intense because of his chiseled cheekbones and rich, deep voice. Middleditch at least seems to be in on the joke, although he mainly looks desperate to be working in the safer confines of Silicon Valley, or even Silicon Valley itself.

Destined for camp cult status, or certainly an eventual showcasing on what will be a particularly hysterical episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Replicas is an example of turkey-movie dumping in January at its most blatant.

Production companies: Riverstone Pictures, Company Films, Di Bonaventura Pictures, Remstar Studios, Fundamental Films, Lotus Entertainment, Ocean Park Entertainment
Distributor: Entertainment Studio Motion Pictures
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, Thomas Middleditch, John Ortiz, Emjay Anthony, Emily Alyn Lind
Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Screenwriter: Chad St. John
Producers: Stephen Hamel, Keanu Reeves, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Luis A. Riekfohl, Mark Gao
Executive producers: Nik Bower, Deepak Nayar, Bill Johnson, Jim Seibel, Ara Keshisian, Maxime Remillard, Clark Peterson, Erik Howsam, Chad St. John, Walter Josten, Gregory Ouanhon, Sebastian Boneta, Byron Allen, Carolyn Folks, Jennifer Lucas, Terence Hill, Mark DiVitre, Chris Charalambous, Mark Borde, Joan Robbins, Michael Simon, Steve Zadrick, Richard Barner, Chad Doher, James Dodson
Director of photography: Checco Varese
Production designer: Johnny Breedt
Editors: Jason Hellman, Pedro Muniz
Composers: Pepe Ojeda, Mark Kilian
Costume designer: Julia Michelle Santiago
Casting: Sharon Bialy

Rated PG-13, 106 minutes