Near the end of “Replicas,” a new sci film starring Keanu Reeves, a clone assesses the state of her being. “I am dead.” She’s referring to her former self, the template for her current physical state, but she could just as easily have been talking about her film, a movie about creating life that arrives DOA in theatres.
Reeves plays William Foster, a scientist with a genius IQ and family man with a wife (Alice Eve) and three kids (Emily Alyn Lind, Emjay Anthony and Aria Lyric Leabu). By day he works for BioNyne, a Puerto Rico-based biotech firm, toiling to place the sentient minds of dead soldiers into synthetic bodies. If successful the procedure could change the world but so far the results have been uneven. An early test subject spent his final seconds engulfed in existential angst, repeatedly yelling, ‘Who am I?” as it examined its new metal body. “You can’t keep bringing back people from the dead while you figure this out,” scolds wife Mona.
On a rare break from the lab William loads the family into the car for a weekend getaway. Driving in terrible weather he veers off the road, tumbling into a lake. He survives but the family perish. Stricken with grief he has a Eureka moment. The dedicated father and even more dedicated scientist decides to get his family back the only way he knows how—cloning and neural transmission. Enlisting lab partner and clone master Ed (Thomas Middleditch) he sets out to grow a new family in pods in his garage. “What if something horrible goes wrong?” asks Ed. “Something already has,” comes William’s reply.
Layer in some corporate greed and scientific mumbo jumbo and you have a film with all the emotional depth of one of the robots William makes at BioNyne. The creation of life has always fascinated storytellers and audiences alike but “Replicas” is so scattershot—Cloning! Artificial Intelligence! Robots!—it likely should have been titled “Replican’t” for its inability to interestingly explore any of its unfocused ideas. With no interest in the ethical or theological ramifications of the work the movie simply becomes a thriller and not a good one at that.
Reeves looks like he’s putting in some effort—he has more dialogue here than in his last three movies combined—but is in full blown “Sad Keanu” meme mode. Downtrodden and desperate, he veers from monosyllabic to bug-eyed, delivering lines with a gravitas that borders on camp.
Once upon a time “Replicas” would have gone straight to DVD, decorating delete bins and quickly forgotten. On the big screen it makes no impression, neural or otherwise.