All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.

REPLICAS

Producer: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Gao, Stephen Hamel, Keanu Reeves and Luis A. Riefkohl
Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Writer: Chad St. John
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Thomas Middleditch, Alice Eve, John Ortiz, Emjay Anthony, Emily Alyn Lind, Aria Leabu and Nyasha Hatendi
Studio: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

D-

A script that would barely pass muster as a SyFy Network original has somehow gotten big-screen treatment in Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s “Replicas,” which updates the hoary old chestnut about the scientist who tries to resurrect his dead wife by adding a lot of modernist mumbo-jumbo to the mix. (Knock out the middle syllable of the director’s name and you’ll have a pretty accurate, if misspelled, description of it.) It also makes a cardinal error by enlisting a star who simply does not convince as a supposedly brilliant neuro-biologist.

That’s Keanu Reeves, who plays Dr. William Foster, head of a research program at the futuristic lab of Biodyne Industries in Puerto Rico. (The film was shot there in 2016, before the tragedy of Hurricane Maria.) His project involves extracting the memories of recently-killed soldiers from their brains and inserting them in skeletal robots, effectively recreating their personas in impervious form. The purpose, his boss Jones (John Ortiz) assures him, is purely medical. But he also warns Foster after his latest attempt fails (the robot literally tears itself apart after finding what it has become), that unless success comes soon, the company will pull the plug on the entire enterprise.

Foster frets over this, but soon he has something worse to worry about. While driving his family—wife Mona (Alice Eve), son Matt (Emjay Anthony), and daughters Sophie (Emily Alyn Lind) and Zoe (Aria Lyric Leabu)—to a fishing vacation in a driving rainstorm, the car crashes. He emerges unscathed, but all the others die.

That’s not something he’s willing to tolerate. He enlists his lab buddy Ed Whipple (Thomas Middleditch), who just happens to be involved in a cloning project, to duplicate his family’s bodies while he furiously works to solve the glitch in his project. He’ll have exactly seventeen days to do that; that’s when the clones, barring some disaster, will be ready for memory implantation.

As you can imagine, things do not go smoothly. Problem after problem arises, but Foster, increasingly desperate (an emotion Reeves tries stiffly to demonstrate, without much success), addresses each of them. A twist that surprises no one but him—even the dimmest viewer will have known it all along—turns the last reel into a chase movie, and another switches it into a snarky critique of capitalist excess, but by the end the entire thing has grown so riddled with plot holes and absurdities that even Reeves’s inadequacy has become an afterthought. Apart from him, the only other cast member who makes much of an impression is Middleditch, who’s meant to provide some comic relief: to be sure, he does bring his bumbling sitcom shtick to bear, but it provides very little relief.

Despite what seems to have been a medium-level budget, “Replicas” looks pretty chintzy; the effects have a bargain-basement quality, and although a few of the locations are attractive, the cinematography by Checco Verese is drab.

There’s no need to plunk down money to see “Replicas” in a theatre. It won’t be long before you’ll be able to watch it on the SyFy Channel, after all.

A DOG’S WAY HOME

Producer: Gavin Polone
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Writer: W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon
Stars: Shelby,  Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer-King, Edward James Olmos, Alexandra Shipp, Wes Studi, Barry Watson, Motell Foster, John Cassini, Chris Bauer, Brian Markinson, Tammy Gillis and Bryce Dallas Howard
Studio: Sony Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

C

From the writer of “A Dog’s Purpose” comes another canine soap opera. Happily, unlike its predecessor “A Dog’s Way Home” doesn’t involve multiple doggie deaths and reincarnations, but it too ends with the reunion of master and pet calculated to bring “oohs” and “ahs” from its viewers.

The plot is an old chestnut. Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard—yes, she talks, or at least thinks loudly), a rescue dog brought up by a cat after her pit-bull mother is seized by animal control, finds a home with med student Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his mother Terri (Ashley Judd), an army veteran coping with post-service depression. Unfortunately, Lucas falls afoul of a developer (Brian Markinson), who’s trying to tear down some deserted houses where stray cats and dogs live, and he in turn enlists a nasty dogcatcher (John Cassini) to target Bella; she’s actually in violation of Denver’s anti-pit-bull ordinance if she’s found loose on the streets.

Lucas and his girlfriend Olivia (Alexandra Shipp) arrange for Bella to stay temporarily with her folks in New Mexico while they search for a place outside the city limits—they’re obviously very much dog lovers. But just as they’re about to retrieve Bella, she escapes and begins a perilous journey through the wilds of New Mexico and Colorado to get home.

So long as the film keeps its focus on Bella and the animals she encounters along the way—particularly an orphaned cougar cub that she befriends and that grows up substantially as they proceed—the picture is engaging in the same fashion that earlier stories of similar treks, “The Incredible Journey” and the “Homeward Bound” movies of the nineties, were. There are a couple of sequences that are a mite troublesome—one in which Bella causes a ruckus at a grocery store trying to find food, and another where she causes a pile-up on a freeway, both of which play the destruction in entirely humorous terms, and an encounter with a wolf pack, which is too frightening for the smallest fry.

But the locations are gorgeous (and beautifully shot by Peter Menzies, Jr.), and Shelby, the dog that plays Bella, has the sort of soulful eyes that are bound to melt the heart of every puppy-lover. The other animals, whether live-action or computer-generated, are attractive critters too, especially that loyal cougar. The editing by David S, Clark and music score by Mychael Danna are also fine.

Unfortunately, there are on-screen human beings to be considered, too, and they’re a terribly pallid lot, even when played by accomplished actors; perhaps director Charles Martin Smith was so entranced by his four-pawed performers that he didn’t spend much time with them. Ashley Judd smiles a lot but offers no real characterization, while Hauer-King and Shipp offer the sort of gee-whiz, Nickolodeon-quality turns that are pretty embarrassing on a big screen. Bryce Dallas Howard, who provides Bella’s thoughts (anthropomorphism being a major factor here), is a bit whiny and irritating, too.

The people Bella encounters along the way aren’t any better. Edward James Olmos, as a homeless man who uses her as a pawn in his begging operation (and nearly causes her death), is soporific, while Wes Studi, as the Denver chief of police, has little to do; the others, like Barry Watson and Motell Foster as a gay couple who take in Bella briefly, are simply amateurish, as are the crew playing the residents of the veterans’ home where Lucas works and Bella makes friends.

As far as doggie movies go, “A Dog’s Way Home” doesn’t deserve to be sent to the pound—in fact, it’s more enjoyable than the sappy, pseudo-profound “Dog’s Purpose”—but the mediocrity of the human element undermines Bella’s quest.