Tag Archives: D

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.

ESCAPE ROOM

Producer: Neal H. Moritz and Ori Marmur
Director: Adam Robitel
Writer: Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik
Stars: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis, Deborah Ann Wolf, Tyler Labine, Nik Dodani, Yorick van Wageningen, Kenneth Fok, Jessica Sutton, Cornelius Geaney, Jr. and Adam Robitel
Studio: Sony Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

D

Puzzles can be fun—not just of the jigsaw variety, but literary (any Agatha Christie story) and cinematic (“The Usual Suspects”). But for a puzzle to work, it has to be coherent and fair, and “Escape Room” isn’t—it’s a jumbled mess in which what pass for clues are so random and frenzied that it’s often impossible to make sense of what’s going on—or care in the slightest.

The setup has six strangers lured to an elaborate escape room game by spiffy gift boxes with invitations inside them. One is Zoey (Taylor Russell), a terribly shy college student whose physics professor (Cornelius Geaney, Jr.) advises her to “do something scary” over break. Then there are Ben (Logan Miller), a scruffy dude working in the back room of a grocery store; Mike (Tyler Labine), a gregarious truck driver; Jason (Jay Ellis), an arrogant stock broker; Amanda (Deborah Ann Wolf), an Iraqi war veteran who’s badly scarred both physically and psychologically; and Danny (Nik Dodani), a gamer nerd. All have been seduced by the promise of a $10,000 prize.

The game, of course, turns out to be life-threatening, and it actually consists of a series of rooms rather than just one. The waiting room where all the characters meet is the first—it turns into a conflagration, and to escape they must work together to find the clues and, through them, a way out. Then there’s a rustic cabin of some sort, which morphs after a lock is opened into a freezing outdoor forest, which becomes an upside-down honky-tonk when a key is fished from a frozen lake. The next stop is a hospital ward, which leads to an encounter with an EKG machine that somehow takes the survivors to a surrealistic TV room and finally to a sumptuous library that threatens to implode. Each change is made by figuring out some riddle—the means of doing so are preposterously accidental—and as the crew proceeds from place to place some of them die until only one is supposedly left.

The screenplay by Bragi Schut and Maria Melnik is clearly indebted to Christie’s classic “And Then There Were None,” but the more probable inspiration is “Saw,” though with far less gore. There are attempts to explain what’s happening along the way, and eventually we’re told what ties all these characters together (something in their pasts, of course); and the close reveals–via a tiresome monologue delivered by a bored Yorick van Wageningen–what’s behind the whole elaborate enterprise (this is where the “Suspects” template is most apparent, though a now-obligatory reference to the dark web is added). An epilogue suggests a continuation that is devoutly not to be wished.

The cast are, as one might expect in this fare, inclined to overemote (Ellis is especially susceptible), but they are all game (excuse the pun), especially in taking on the action moments (see the upside-down room sequence in particular). The real heroes of the hour, though, are the craftsmen behind the scenes: production designer Edward Thomas, art director Mark Walker and set decorator Tracy Perkins have fashioned some elegant-looking locales (the icy forest and reversed bar, with its falling ceiling tiles, are the best), and cinematographer Marc Spicer arranges some very nice visuals. Unfortunately director Adam Robitel (who also takes a minor role in the ensemble) and editor Steve Mirkovich often muddy the waters with some clumsy staging and jerky cutting.

In the end “Escape Room” is a mediocre idea ineptly executed except for the visuals–an explosion of sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing. The title is entirely appropriate, as this is a movie that will have you searching for the exit sign long before it’s over.