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.