Keanu Reeves is ever the consummate professional. In the completely ludicrous sci-fi cloning flick “Replicas,” directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff, written by Chad St. John, story by Stephen Hamel, Reeves not only keeps a straight face while delivering lines of quasi-scientific gibberish, but he also manages to earnestly sell the emotional motivation behind his character’s Dr. Frankenstein-esque actions. And yet, he might as well be waggling his eyebrows and shouting, “It’s alive!,” for all the gravitas this chintzy B-movie contains.
Reeves does get as close to campy as his range allows playing William Foster, a scientist working for Bionyne, a secretive Puerto Rico-based biotech company developing a process for transplanting human consciousness into robots in order to save lives that have been cut short. The process has stalled, unable to map the neural imprint onto the robot body, but William finds his breakthrough in personal tragedy. When his wife and children are killed in a car accident, he enlists his underling Ed (Thomas Middleditch) to help him preserve his family’s neural maps, clone their bodies, and re-imprint their memories into the clones.
Trauma is a hell of a drug, and combined with male hubris, it’s unbelievably potent. Reeves does sell this point as a man who defies all laws of nature to bring his family back in some form. The whole scenario is completely insane, and the script throws a humdinger Sophie’s Choice at William. “There are only three pods,” Ed informs him, meaning William has to choose which of his three children to bring back, and edit the neural maps to reflect the new reality. What does it mean to “Eternal Sunshine” your own offspring out of your cloned wife’s brain? That’s an interesting question, but there’s no time to ponder it — everyone hop in the sensible sedan and put your seatbelts on, it’s time for the car chase!
“Replicas” sets up a fascinating existential quandary, and then completely abandons it. Reeves’ performance underlines the moral and ethical dilemmas that trouble William, who is trying to solve the death of his family as if it were a particularly tough math problem. But the film around Reeves is so poorly rendered—literally, the CGI is half-baked — and the film nose-dives hard in the third act. As “Replicas” races headlong toward its conclusion, the filmmakers manage to avoid every potentially interesting choice for far dumber, and far more inexplicable, conclusions. But what would you expect from a film that casually purports that humanity can be contained on a hard drive?
Rated: PG-13, for thematic material, violence, disturbing images, some nudity and sexual references
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Playing: In general release