In this sci-fi thriller, neuro-scientist William Foster (Keanu Reeves) is on the verge of successfully transferring human consciousness into a computer when his family is tragically killed in a car crash. Desperate to resurrect them, William recruits fellow scientist Ed Whittle (Thomas Middleditch) to help him secretly clone their bodies and create replicas. But he soon faces a “Sophie’s choice” when it turns out that they can only bring three of the four family members back to life.
There is a good chance you haven’t heard of this Keanu Reeves starring-and-produced film, even though he is one of the hottest properties in cinema right now. Produced in 2016, sold on before it’s 2019 release, and allegedly passed over by Nicholas Cage, it’s box office bombing should have been the talk of the town. Instead of it becoming a cause célèbre, it just got shuffled off the big screens at a rapid pace, another miss in a summer of hits. It then rolled into the Amazon Prime bargain bucket of Amazon Prime in the middle of the year and then on Netflix this month. So, is it as bad as the odd critic has tried to make out?
Well, the cast is pretty on-form. Keanu does a good job of the head of the Foster family (assuming you can handle his bizarre choice of accent), managing to look ruggedly handsome and sciency-smart though-out it all. He’s never going to get awards for acting, as he’s too natural and restrained for anything fancy, but he’s believable and carries the weight of his role. You can easily believe that he’s quietly lost his mind from losing his family, and he’s really thinking about the choices of Frankensteining them back before picking the dumb option. Similarly, Thomas Middleditch tunes up the seriousness of his Silicon Valley performance to be a sciency-nerd-partner, moral foil, and crime enabler. He clearly points out all the ways that William is about to break the laws of man and god, then passes the power cables for the Clone-O-Matic 5000 he just helped William steal.
Alice Eve’s time as wife Mona is a bit more curious. Initially presented as idealised wife, she then dies and comes back as cloned-love-trophy before pivoting into moral-questionnaire. Turns out you can love someone and still be annoyed that they brought you back from the dead and removed the memories of one of your children with sticky tape. She then does quite a splendid job of shelving all that when the bad guys start shooting, proving that you can be both stern and not want to die again. Mostly she just handles things fine, because that’s all she’s given to do.
The bulk of the tension comes from the work of John Ortiz, as William’s boss, Jones. He does a wonderful job of acting sinister, creepy and intense, which is strange as mostly he’s just reminding William that he’s the lynchpin of a multibillion-dollar research facility. Okay, it’s a facility that tries to download people’s minds into surprisingly badly CGI’d robots. But they were all dead anyway, the goal is benevolent, and the facility employs a couple hundred people – so many, that William is being a bit selfish bunking work to play Lazarus. That all gets resolved in the final act, as he goes full-bastard-on everyone and kicks the story out of it’s meandering malaise.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The premise of this film is great, the ideas it lays out are wonderful, and the topics it briefly explores are exciting. It’s just all done so slowly and dull-y that you go “oh, okay”, nip out for a cup of tea, and get back in time for nothing much to have happened. It asks questions about the essence of life, the values of memory, and what science should do to extend existence, but also tries to keep everyone comfy and happy. It tries to show a father losing his mind, but mostly does that through him pulling a sickie and telling you how worried he is about his necro-fam. It touches upon friendship and responsibility, then decides to fill in the gaps with crayon. And then it tries to remind everyone that this is a tense, sci-fi drama by having a couple of people shot at during the big ending.
The final “twist” is good, I’ll give it that, and whilst you may see it coming, the way it plays out is inventive and interesting. It’s just that someone took an amazing hour-long Outer Limits episode, and carried on writing way after the editor should have taken the pen away. More is definitely less in this, as it just adds in detail and extended moments that aren’t needed. The best example of the inscrutably long “it was done better in Minority Report” VR headset scenes: pretty, pointless, and possibly the dumbest way to say “he’s really working hard here”. It wants to be the swish, futuristic version of twisting the dials and throwing the switches, instead it’s dumb to the point of embarrassed laughter.
But nothing here is as bad as people have made out. Keanu does, somehow, carry it all sufficiently well that you will probably want to know how it all ends. Similarly his family are blandly endearing enough that you want them to live again and his boss is gittish enough that you want to see him fall. It’s a solid C grade movie, and you’ll be annoyed at it for not having tightened its belt to a B. If you have it on in the background, you’ll remember it as “ooh, yeah. I watched that” when someone does the same things better. But at no point will you hate it, because it clearly tried it’s best.
Replicas is available to buy now at Amazon and streams as part of the Netflix package.