At first so-bad-it's-good, then merely it’s-so-bad, Replicas’ source of interest is primarily forensic. How did director Jeffrey Nachmanoff and writer Chad St. John (London Has Fallen) think they could get away with it?
Mona's warning comes after Will's latest attempt to implant a robot with the brain data of a newly dead man in a lab in Puerto Rico. Will, intensely earnest in his hushed baritone, and Ed (Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch, not sure if he's supposed to be funny or not), are on the verge of a science breakthrough. You can tell that because they use words like "algorithm," "mapping procedures," and "neural imprinting" while wearing VR headsets and waving their hands at floating screens.
The opening scene is definitely Replicas’ highlight. When the dead man awakens in a metal robot body, he is terrified and attempts to rip off his expensive head, forcing Will to pull out the plug from his spinal column. The failure doesn't play well with the lab manager, Jones (John Ortiz), who warns that the guys in the boardroom will also pull the plug if the nerds can't get this functioning human-bot right, pronto. You may safely assume Jones is not on the altruistic side of bio-mechanical advances.
Will and Ed's ethical adventure truly begins when the stakes become more personal. On a weekend car trip, Dr. Will's family SUV goes off the road into a lake, killing everyone inside except Will. After lining the bodies up on the shore, he does what any grieving dad within an inside track on re-animation technology would do: He calls his assistant, Ed, and asks him to bring a truckload of equipment from the lab.
The plan is to take some DNA samples, download the family's brains, and get Ed to dispose of their corpses. Will and Ed proceed to turn his Foster basement into a kind of family grow-op. When their bodies have (somehow) all regrown to their respective ages in 17 days, he'll re-load their minds with their old memories.
Though the science-y stuff sounds pretty unassailable, there are some hitches. Ed comes up short of "pods" needed for the family grow-op, which means preschooler Zoe's data/soul is left on a hard drive. Dr. Will is left to cover things up. With a few keystrokes on his computer, he deletes his family’s memories of Zoe from their brain data. Convincing the school and friends that Zoe's will be unavailable for a bit involves a few texts and emails. Fortunately, nobody even asks about the SUV.
When it comes to both house-cleaning and neural decluttering, Dr. Will is no Marie Kondo. As Clone Mona and the children come to life, they start stumbling on clues of Zoe's existence. In one scene, when the family goes Christmas-tree shopping, Mona catches sight of a little girl who looks like Zoe and feels a pang. Perhaps it would have been more poignant if it didn't remind us this movie was never intended to open in January.
The first two-thirds of Replicas are so off-kilter, it’s sporadically fascinating. In the second half, the entire movie apparently loses its will to live and turns into generic TV thriller, as security dudes in suits and guns and chase the Foster family through streets and warehouses. There's a lesson here as pre-Clone Mona warned us: You really can’t keep bringing people back from the dead until you get this stuff worked out.
Replicas. Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff. Written by Chad St. John. Starring Keanu Reeves, Thomas Middleditch, Alice Eve and John Ortiz. Now playing wide.