Largely due to the success of John Wick, we're in the midst of something of a Keanu Reeves revival, and I couldn't be more excited about that. In the right roles, which are often stoic or deliberately composed with doses of genuine, fiery emotion coming out of his character, he can deliver rather absorbing performances that hit just the right tones for certain styles of plotting. Worth remembering, though, during this time of celebrated revival, that he can just as easily be cast in the wrong parts that stretch his talents too thin and leave him feeling like an awkward presence and that all his past films aren't immediately transformed into gems, like The Day the Earth Stood Still and 47 Ronin. Unfortunately, his latest attempt at science-fiction with Replicas goes down the rabbit hole and into the latter category: despite a few noble ideas involving the creation of artificial life and the willingness to incorporate dark humor, they get lost in this ideologically messy, tonally confused and logistically harebrained piece of work from Traitor director Jeffrey Nachmanoff that misuses Reeves' capabilities.
Dr. Will Foster (Reeves) heads a research initiative for the Bionyne Corporation based in Puerto Rico, in which he and his team concentrate on duplicating a person's consciousness and transmitting it into an autonomous robot body. Despite the groundbreaking advances they've made, Foster's team are coming up short in bringing the entire project fruition and are close to losing the company's financial support, if they can't deliver on its entire spectrum. After returning home to reflect on his project and spend some time with his family, an accident causes his wife (Alice Eve) and three kids to abruptly die. Working as a man of science and taking risks, Foster decides to take matters into his own hands and try to create Replicas of his family yet, since his robotic technology isn't working properly, he attempts to test the furthest fringes of science by duplicating their consciousnesses and transferring them into real bodies. When the results aren't entirely spot-on, he copes with the consequences.
Replicas begins as a soft sci-fi exploration of how a person's thoughts, feelings, and all-around being could be channeled from their physical body into a mechanical one, tapping into an interesting spectrum of ideas when the consciousness may or may not handle its new, synthetic vessel. At the beginning, that's where the script makes one think they're headed, but the film shifts gears so quickly that it nearly gave me whiplash: to the cloning of human tissue, then shifting again into the rapid gestation of bodies, and then yet again by bridging those together with consciousness transferring. It takes some adjustment to roll with how far Foster has come with consciousness transference -- yet still a distance away from realizing it -- to suddenly embracing the full-on successful cloning of bodies. The science in Replicas ends up being too much crammed into one story and unable to be taken seriously, but it's also frustratingly contrived to be advanced at just the right levels for Foster's neuroscientific plans to come to life and falter whenever the story needs tension or drama.
Long before Replicas haphazardly merges futuristic sciences, it strikes an odd chord in an unexpected area: with its dark humor. Now, I'm a firm believer that genre movies shouldn't take themselves too seriously, and that including moments of levity can elevate thrills or suspenseful drama by opening a figurative pressure valve, releasing some of the tension, and then letting the heaviness build up again. The humor needs to fit the circumstances, though, and the circumstances we're working with here are the deaths of a scientist's entire family, whom he cared for immensely; it might've been a different situation had he been a callous narcissist or something like that. When Foster jokes around with Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch on the same night that his family died in a pretty horrific and traumatizing way, it sends some mixed and unsatisfying signals about how these characters should be deciphered. The comedic timing between Reeves and Middleditch works fine enough as the more solemn, spread-too-thin research scientist and his edgier subordinate co-researcher, but the material simply comes across as out of place.
Through the boundless magic of science-fiction where the end could justify the narrative means, Replicas finds a way of getting Dr. Foster's family back on their feet well, most of em. At a certain point, the film essentially transforms into one long chain of gray moral dilemmas, engineered by the writers' self-imposed limitations on the plot and the preposterous advancements -- and success rate -- of the research being done at Bionyne Corporation. The dilemmas, and the suspense that branches off their repercussions, fail to rationalize the fantastical whirlwind of technobabble that got us to this point, introducing question after question about the general timeline, the stability of this advanced tech under less-than-ideal circumstances, and some exceptionally poor decision-making that has immediate consequences. These stumbles in practicality turn into critical distractions from the thought exercises brainstormed by the writers responsible for Replicas, and no, despite how good it is too see him again so soon, the bearded yet reticent attitude of Keanu Reeves isn't enough to salvage how it all happens.
Video and Audio:
Replicas takes visual cues from many other science-fiction properties, sporting similar elements to those of Minority Report and I, Robot, which employs a generous amount of digital effects within mostly dark, shadowy surroundings of either research labs or spacious residential basements. Despite the budget nature of the production, the visual effects look pretty solid at most points (excluding some jittery robot movement), and Lionsgate does it all justice with their 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC transfer. The bright futuristic shades of 3D interfaces, artificial circuitry, and sci-fi incubators stand out crisp and vibrant against the darkness of their surroundings, holding onto the assorted colors without appearing too blown-out of vivid, while the contrast balance keeps the surrounding details visible but properly cloaked in darkness. Skin tones are warm and balanced against the general lean of the film's color palette, while close-ups properly emphasize the fine details in hair and skin contours throughout. Perhaps a little smooth in spots, but otherwise, Lionsgate transmits another reliable Blu-ray transfer for a modest-budget film.
Aside from a few futuristic bells-n-whistles, a crash here and a gunshot there, Replicas doesn't have that many intriguing elements on the sound level, hinged mostly on the frantic conversations between research scientists either in-person or over the phone. Lionsgate pairs the strong visuals with a fine 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that supports the nuances on this level, too, communicating the dialogue with ample crispness and zero distortion, hitting nice bass levels with Reeves' midrange vocals and the more alto-leaning pitch of Alice Eve's voice. The few assertive sound aspects throughout the film have enough tactile punch for them to be satisfying, emphasizing the crunch of glass, the clank of metal, and the pierce of a fired bullet. The thump of hands upon a glass chamber's walls and the mechanical movement of a robot's joints have tangible nuance to em, and the absence of distortion is expected but welcome from this modern sci-fi production. A very healthy and functional track from Lionsgate.
Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff and producer James Dodson tell the story of the creation of Replias through a perfunctory Audio Commentary. The most interesting aspects of the track formulate when they reveal how they adapted to shooting in Puerto Rico -- locating or morphing shooting spots, casting local actors, hitting and missing with their attempts at authentic Puerto Rican lifestyle -- as well as how they tailored and "invented" visual and production effects on their relatively low budget. They also discuss how this was a passion project for Keanu Reeves for a number of years, how he banded the cast together while on location for several months, and other tales of the attitude with the filmmaking experience. They also attempt to explain some of the tonal incongruities, intentions, and other oddities throughout the movie, which was ineffective but welcome from a detail perspective. The pair move casually through their chat and do repeat themselves, so it's a suitable but inessential listen.
Lionsgate have also included a nearly half-hour making of featurette entitled Imprint Complete (25:45, 16x9 HD), which fuses behind-the-scenes footage with a generous amount of earnest interviews with Keanu Reeves and the filmmaking team behind Replicas. It does take the systematic approach to each interviewee discussing their characters and their positive interactions with the crew, but there's just enough authenticity there to enjoy how they're talking about the project, especially after the midway point when discussions begin about the visual and production design of the film kicks into gear. There's also a sequence of Deleted Scenes (8:12, 16x9 HD) and a pair of Trailers (4:11, 16x9 HD).
Keanu Reeves may be back in the sci-fi genre with Replicas, but unfortunately it overloads those watching with quasi-science, contrived moral dilemmas, and out-of-turn dark humor that gets too many tonal and logistical wires crossed. Lionsgate has pieced together a solid Blu-ray, though, and the cast and the very rough outline of the concept are still worth a Rental.