Keanu Reeves plays a doctor at an experimental research facility in the amusingly unconvincing “Replicas,” which is set in a Puerto Rico that looks like it has sustained no damage at all from Hurricane Maria, a visual decision that suits the totally unrealistic movie.
Reeves’ Will Foster is first seen waiting for a donated brain that is being brought to him via helicopter, and director Jeffrey Nachmanoff (“Traitor”) cross-cuts between Reeves anxiously staring at his watch and the brain being rushed into the facility. During an operation to place this brain into a robot body, Dr. Foster is asked, “Do you concur?” by a colleague and Reeves cries, “I concur!” in that ineffably stilted but enthusiastic Keanu-ish way.
Dr. Foster plays Dr. Frankenstein with this robot, urging it to relax once its brain has been turned on; the robot freaks out and tears itself apart, but nevertheless, Foster is encouraged. “This one spoke!” he cries optimistically before going home to his picture-perfect blonde wife Mona (Alice Eve) and their three rambunctious children. Mona has been given one line of dialogue here about being a doctor, but she looks and behaves like a personal trainer.
It’s obvious that this “fill-in-the-blank” family is doomed from the moment they get in a car, even before it starts to rain and they have a near-miss collision with another car and then a tree quickly smashes through their windshield. This sequence of events is so rushed and careless that when Foster arranges the corpses of his family very neatly out on a road, it feels like he is just raking some leaves in his backyard.
Foster calls his work colleague and friend Ed (Thomas Middleditch), and when Ed sees the dead bodies he asks, “What the hell happened, man?” in such an un-excited, deadpan stoner way that it seems like the filmmakers might have been going for an intentional laugh here at the expense of their would-be narrative.
In no time at all, Reeves’ Foster is taking the corpses home and urging Ed to help him clone them. “I’m not a freakin’ genie here,” Ed says in his usual detached way while Reeves cries things like, “Boot the mapping sequence in!” and speaks of the “neurofibrillary tangles” of memory. Foster sits down and processes the memories of his children and wife in a virtual-reality setting, but all we see are red veins flowing along while we hear innocuous meal-time-like shouts and murmurs.
Foster feigns illness to stay at home and work on his clone family, even though his boss Jones (John Ortiz) is demanding results for their robot-brain project. “I have to watch the pods!” Foster exclaims on the phone to Ed, just one of many line readings from Reeves that might earn an unintentional laugh from those who enjoy unintentional laughs.
The plotting of “Replicas” is so chaotic and overstuffed that a subplot where Foster continues text-message conversations for his dead children is swiftly introduced and then dropped, even though it has potential as an idea. The clone family is kept in water, and Ed warns Foster that they will age rapidly if they are not released soon. When clone Mona wakes up and things seem fine with her, Ed mutters, “We’re talkin’ Nobel Prize, right?” in his usual non-committed style.
There are two instances in “Replicas” when a needle is plunged directly into an eye on screen, and this ocular violence seems wholly unnecessary and nasty given the “we couldn’t care less” vibe of all the other scenes. When Jones is turned into a villain who wants to monetize Foster’s findings, his dialogue is so ineptly would-be suave that it comes close to sounding surreal.
The chief distinction of “Replicas” is how detached it often is from the expected sense of words and images. There is a single shot of Reeves bolting down a hallway of his home in half-silhouette that carries a sense of urgency, and this shot sticks out because practically every other shot in the movie is so perfunctory.
Towards the end of “Replicas,” it is revealed that Foster deleted one of his three children out of scientific necessity, but this doesn’t seem to matter to anyone as much as the consistently silly delivery of lines like “Upload my neural map!” The neural map of “Replicas” is so lacking in meaningful activity that it might have been made by robots.