As Replicas opens, unusually attractive, well-tailored scientist Keanu Reeves is just about to carry out his 300-somethingth attempt at placing a recently deceased human consciousness into a robot humanoid clearly designed by the engineers of I, Robot. After he very clearly articulates as much (to a camera, but mostly to the camera), he puts on a little visor, starts gesturing around—back to Johnny Mnemonic-style—and does whatever it is he’s doing to map the brain into its new, synthetic housing. The experiment succeeds enough for the man-bot to spout a few words, but the mental incongruity quickly sends him into a suicidal rage, and Reeves’s Monster literally tears himself apart. Whoops! It seems Reeves, who also served as a producer on the film, has created an ill-fated, self-destructive simulacrum of humanity. His character, too.
Still, no reason for a man dying, then becoming a robot, then immediately going insane, tearing off his own head should ruin a fun weekend. The Reeves family is going boating! And the audience is off on its own tragic adventure.
Next thing you know, Keanu’s genetic scientist coworker, Ed (the far more aptly cast Thomas Middleditch), drops off his boat keys and it’s Reeves family vacation time—but not before Ed also drops off the news to Keanu’s wife, Mona (Alice Eve), that their latest brain-transfer shot lost its shit like Terminator on bath salts. The reveal leads to a husband-wife conversation that probably should have happened before hundreds of prior attempts and a relocation to Puerto Rico: Mona is actually a little fuzzy on the morality of Keanu’s life’s work. But, ah, forget it. The Reeves family is going boating!
Or are they? As Jurassic Park taught us, playing God has its consequences. Namely, a torrential island storm that leads to someone dying in a wrecked SUV. En route to their boat trip, wind and rain bring down a tree, sending the Reeves family careening off a bluff and into a lake, killing everyone but our unaging Bill & Ted star. You may think you know what Keanu is thinking now. You’d be wrong, though. Close, but it’s actually far more convoluted and dives even deeper into outlandish pseudo-science.
See, while a man-to-robot brain transfer has never worked, it turns out Keanu has already had numerous successes transferring memories between cloned animals. It also turns out that Ed’s cloning work has inexplicably made it possible to clone not just an embryo but, say, a teenager, or a 36-year-old wife. And they’ll come out with their original haircuts/dye-jobs and, where applicable, shaved legs or faces, for reasons that will never be fussed about. It just takes 17 days and some “accelerants.” So, yes, now you probably know what Keanu is thinking.
There are a couple issues with his resurrection plan, though. Firstly, he’s still never actually done human-to-clone transfers. And, more worrisomely, there are only three cloning pods for four Reeves family corpses. So it’s time for Keanu to make a dire choice that shows how truly inept London Has Fallen writer Chad St. John’s screenplay is.
For any parents reading this, or for anyone who’s known a parent—or, Christ, for pretty much anyone else who isn’t a sociopath—Keanu’s choice is obvious: he saves the kids, making the sacrifice he knows his wife would herself want, and he would himself want her to make in his position. Yet no one tells that to Neo as he tears off some scraps of paper, tosses them into a bowl, and decides to let fate decide who gets unnatural life.
Errr… not quite. Despite writing Mona’s name on her own scrap, Keanu sets that one aside and leaves it out of his Sophie’s Choice cereal. This is one dad who isn’t going to be shopping around for another hot wife in his 50s. Thusly, Keanu draws a name only from one of his children he expressly loves less than his wife, has a little cry, and it’s decided.
But, again, playing God has its consequences—even if they’re not even close to what one imagines as an obvious narrative arc. While this may be the point when his wife’s sudden morality should spring to mind, instead this is where Replicas leans hard into nonsensical science and a Dateline special’s explanation of a murderous husband covering his tracks. When Keanu isn’t incessantly checking the levels(?) on his idiotic home incubator, he’s hiding the trail of his family’s disappearance—in particular of daughter Zoe, the one he’s decided to let rot rather than ever remarry. Her loss is the venn-diagram crossover of this bullshit, forcing Keanu to hide both physical evidence (photos, a bunk-bed ladder but apparently not the actual bunk-bed, a crayon drawing) and his family’s memories of her (he literally enters “Zoe” in the digital brain search-bars and “corrupts” it, so that’s that).
At this point in Replicas, there’s a lot to swallow. Even if you’ve tried to accept the flat-out nitwitted technology introduced, it’s around here one may start wondering: why do they keep needing new, freshly-dead subjects for each attempt at robo-men? Like, if you’ve digitized the brain, you can’t just hit save and try again? But then, at last, the film offers its latest slim distraction: Replicas finally has some replicas. Mona and the children Keanu Reeves definitely loves less than her are back. And just in time: because who isn’t excited about that boat trip, right?
Unfortunately, smooth sailing is not to come. Mona starts feeling an emptiness, sensing whatever memories Keanu’s cursory mind-Google for “Zoe” didn’t cover; the Reeves daughter realizes some evidence of lost time and lost daughter Keanu left behind; and son Matt begins making some weirdly muddled movements. It would seem Keanu is about to get his comeuppance in playing handsome Frankenstein.
Rather, Replicas’s final half-hour completely drops all that half-assed drama to abruptly introduce a one-note antagonist and turn into an absolutely ridiculous action-thriller. It’s a film that dips its toes into the classic man-playing-God genre and recoils, inventing a laugh-out-loud hilarious final act pitting man against generic government guys—and that’s before its outrageously moronic epilogue, closing on the most half-fisted punch of a final line ever written. (Do they think this is building to a sequel?) If you’re looking for a guy in a suit trying to resurrect his family with some made-up science and goofy cloning, theaters already have a far better option.
Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Studio: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
Runtime: 107 minutes
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Thomas Middleditch, Alice Eve, John Ortiz
BONUS: Spoilers to come in an incensed post for Patreon donors!