How late can a thriller spring a plot twist that at least partially compensates for all the cavernous plot holes, risible dialogue, and ludicrously illogical behavior that precede it? Probably not nearly as late as the makers of “Replicas” wait before introducing a third-act reveal that brazenly acknowledges just how silly things have been up to that point. By the time director Jeffrey Nachmanoff and screenwriter Chad St. John tap the protagonist played by Keanu Reeves on the shoulder and make him painfully aware of what he’s heretofore been too blind to see, most ticket buyers will have stopped caring — or retreated to the parking lot. And it’s even more likely that home viewers will have already flipped the channel, or preemptively ejected the DVD for a quick return to the Redbox kiosk.
With an intensity perilously close to self-parody, Reeves plays William Foster, a scientist leading a research program aimed at “implanting” the memories of recently deceased humans into robots. Unfortunately, as William and his team deal with matters of life and death at the Puerto Rican headquarters of Biodyne Industries, a biotech firm run by people with deep pockets but limited patience, they face a seemingly insurmountable problem: Dead people really don’t like to wake up and find their memories have been stuffed inside something that looks like the mechanical marvel from “Ex Machina.”
“Replicas” begins with what appears to be the latest in a long line of failed experiments, as a “revived” subject is so repulsed by where his consciousness has been contained that he literally tears himself apart. Mona (Alice Eve), William’s loving but skeptical wife, is moved to offer blunt-spoken advice: “You can’t keep bringing people back from the dead until you get this stuff worked out.” It’s not the first clump of dialogue that indicates “Replicas” might have worked better as an intentional comedy — and hardly the last.
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The absurdity escalates after William manages to survive an auto mishap on a conveniently secluded mountain road that proves fatal for Mona and their three children. More determined than ever to cheat death — because this time it’s, you know, personal — the scientist calls upon Ed Whittle (“Silicon Valley” star and Verizon Wireless spokesperson Thomas Middleditch) to help him carry the bodies from the accident site back to his garage (no, really) and set up a kinda-sorta satellite research center.
Ed just happens to have been tinkering with cloning, and Biodyne just happens to have expensive pods in which clones can be raised. Perhaps most important, no one at Biodyne, not even the inventory clerk, notices when pods and other high-tech equipment are surreptitiously transferred to the garages of employees. One thing leads to another, William is able to implant the memories of his late loved ones into cloned replicas, happily-ever-aftering seems entire possible for the reconstituted Foster family, and just about everyone else fails to notice tell-tale signs that something weird has happened (like, the wrecked SUV in which William’s loved ones perished, last seen in a lake at the bottom of a steep drop-off), and is continuing to happen.
It actually comes as a relief when Jones (John Ortiz), William’s profit-conscious boss, pops up relatively late in “Replicas” to in effect ask, “Did you really think things would be that freakin’ easy?” His smugly condescending revelations are the first indication that, yes, the filmmakers noticed the same plot holes that you did. Trouble is, the elements they offer to plug most (but by no means all) of those holes is little more than the stuff of routine paranoid thrillers. Too little, too late.