Pop quiz, movie fan: You’re watching the new Keanu Reeves movie Replicas. It’s clearly building up to a big finale involving a standoff between Keanu and the bastards who took his family hostage. (Well, technically cloned family. It’s complicated.) Either Keanu gives the bad guys the tech secrets in his head (what is this, Johnny Mnemonic?) or the family dies. What will he do, you wonder. What will he do?
I shouldn’t technically say anything more. After all, I’m on the verge of spoiling the ending, an obvious big no-no in reviews. However, who are we kidding here? Less than 300,000 people bought a ticket to see Replicas this past weekend. It is now the answer to a trivia question: which Keanu Reeves movie which opened in wide release had the worst debut weekend? Not I Love You to Death. (You’ll forever have my respect if you can tell me right now what that almost completely forgotten movie is about.) Not Chain Reaction. And definitely not Johnny Mnemonic. Nope, that honor, or dishonor really, falls to Replicas, which didn’t even crack the box office top 10 with its sad domestic haul of $2.7m.
Given the film’s blistering reviews, both from fans and critics, its fortunes aren’t going to turn around. So, I’m writing this under the assumption most of you have yet to and probably never will see Replicas. That’s a better life choice for you, really. Spend more time with family. Start watching Schitt’s Creek or You on Netflix. If you’re in the U.S., call your elected officials to demand they end the government shutdown. If you’re outside the U.S., call your friends and joke, “Can you believe what’s happening in the States right now? World’s leading superpower, my ass.”
Or, don’t do any of that. Just sit and blankly/absentmindedly stare at a wall for 90 minutes. Even that would be a better use of your time than Replicas.
Alas, however, I did see Replicas, and I am going to spoil the ending because it is easily among the funniest things I’ve seen on a movie screen in the past 12 months:
To revisit my opening question, what will Keanu do when the bad guys threaten his family? First, you have to know Keanu plays a synthetic biologist hired by what turns out to be a shell company for a top secret government operation built around the military potential for his research. He’s almost found a way to take a newly dead person’s mind and transfer it to a robot which looks like it’s been lifted straight out of the movie I, Robot. (Insert Jurassic World-level nonsense about how exactly the bad guys plan to militarize this. It involves drones. I think.) By the time the climactic standoff arrives, Keanu has perfected the procedure thanks to what he learns from his little side project cloning his dead wife and kids. Either he turns over the final (for the sake of clarity let’s call it ) “formula” or they all die.
His solution? Pretend to do as they’ve asked while actually uploading a copy of his own mind into the super strong robot safely secure in another room. That way, once the villain predictably moves to kill Keanu and the family after getting what he wants the robot kicks a door down and dispassionately declares, in Keanu Reeves’ laconic voice I should add, “Let go of my family.”
The WTF facial expressions come fast and dirty. Is that a robot Keanu?” the bad guy seems to wonder. “Why did robot Keanu just threaten them with all the urgency of someone ordering a latte at a Starbucks?” Keanu’s cloned wife seem to ponder.
From that moment forward, Replicas, perhaps taking its title too literally, has two Keanu Reeves performances: one the flesh and blood scientist with a knack for making already bad problems so much worse, and the other a mo-capped CGI robot which speaks with his voice. You’re damn right they end up talking to each other multiple times, as human Keanu saves the family while robot Keanu annihilates the bad guys, albeit without drawing any blood since we gotta keep things PG-13.
To top all of that off, by the very end of the movie robot Keanu is seen wearing a suit and tie while looking out over a vast city landscape from a skyscraper penthouse, suffering a long night of the robot soul.
Now, that might not read as being particularly funny on paper, but on-screen when you don’t know it’s coming the Keanu-bot’s triumphant arrival and ensuing WTF of it all is just the cherry on top of the shit sundae that is Replicas. A film which had made me laugh multiple times saved its best joke for last. Too bad none of the jokes were intentional.
“But Kelly,” you might be thinking, “I thought this was a movie about a grieving scientist using cloning technology to bring his family back from the dead only for them to go all Pet Sematary on him. That’s what the trailer promises. How in the world does that storyline turn into a standoff between shady government dudes and two different Keanus?”
How indeed. There are so, so many questions I could ask of Replicas:
For starters, why is it set in Puerto Rico? Why, halfway through, does the script suddenly decide the film is taking place over Thanksgiving? Why introduce a potential plot obstacle in the form of suspicious cops halfway through, about which Keanu literally says, “So, that just happened,” and then drop it entirely? Why tell Alice Eve (as Keanu’s wife) the Joey Tribbiani School of Acting try-to-do-long-division-in-your-head technique is really the proper acting choice to make when playing a scene where your character learns she is a clone of a dead woman? Why does Thomas Middleditch (as Keanu’s friend and co-worker) use just about every scene to warn, essentially “sometimes dead is betta” only for that to end up being the least of their problems? Why do we reach the end of the movie without either of the kids in the story discovering they are clones despite several obvious moments for the parents to fill them in?
Those, however, are just some of the questions you could ask of the movie’s plot. There are probably far more questions which beg to be asked of the director (whose last movie came out when GW was still President) and producers.
Like, for example, are they aware how fishy this all seems?
As the AVClub joked, “One could be forgiven for wondering if Replicas is a real film. The poster, after all, with its bifurcated headshot and nonsensical tagline (“Some humans are unstoppable”—whatever that means), is the type of thing you might see hanging on the wall of a fictional producer’s office in a bad Hollywood satire. The distributor, meanwhile, is the hilariously fake-sounding Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, while the production company is called, no joke, Company Films.”
Ahhh, setting it in Puerto Rico makes more sense now. That allowed them to go somewhere tropical to film the thing and adds to the vibe that if this is not actually the giant tax-shelter byproduct it appears to be then it is at the very least an obvious paycheck-vacation gig for all involved.
Where’s the plot going? What are the character motivations? What’s the point of any of it? Why are their robots in my movie about clones? All questions to worry about on real movies. Not Replicas, though. This is just a thing that happened to result from some well-paid vacations. Like similar prior films to fit that description (Jaws 4: The Revenge), Replicas is enjoyably terrible and does present some reward for the so bad, it’s good crowd. Robo-Keanu’s arrival is easily my favorite movie moment in quite some time. They didn’t mean for it to be funny, but when you’re on vacation who cares.