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Movie Review

"And other duties as assigned."

If you've ever had a written job description, you've probably seen that clause a time or two. Ed probably read it when applying for the position of Second Banana at a mysterious, Puerto Rican-based med-tech company. Other duties as assigned? He might've thought with an eyeroll. What are they gonna have me do? Clean bathrooms? Unlikely, given his status as bio-techno genius and all.

See, he and Will Foster, the scientific head of the facility, are trying to raise the dead. Not literally, mind you, because that would be totally unethical. No, Will and Ed only dabble in the partly unethical: They take the recently deceased, copy their brains and download them—personality traits, memories, the works—into a new synthetic body, theoretically allowing the dead to "live" again. Alas, the newly synthesized seem to prefer death: As soon as they wake up, they start tearing at wires and ripping their own fabricated faces off until someone mercifully, and literally, pulls the plug. Again.

Will and Ed see this as "rejection"—not an existential rejection of abominable, Frankensteinian experimentation, but a biological one, like a body rejecting a heart transplant. (Never mind the screams of "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME!?!") They hope that, with time, they'll find a way to transplant a mind that kinda likes its new body. But they'll only be able to do so if the money holds out. And given the slew of expensive robot suicides they've caused, continued funding isn't a given.

Yeah, with his schedule filled with playing God and all, there's not a lot of time for "other duties" in Ed's average workday. But that was before Ed loaned his boat to Will and his family—wife Mona and three kids, Sophie, Matt and Zoe—for a well-deserved weekend getaway.

Alas, the Fosters never made it to said boat. They crashed along the way, and all of them died except Will. Understandably upset, the newly widowered scientist pulled the bodies out of the car and promptly called … not the police, but Ed.

It doesn't take long for Ed to realize that he's seriously underpaid.

Will asks Ed to help him upload his wife's and kids' minds into some massive flash drives, pronto. He also asks him to steal some of the lab's multi-million cloning containers (the lab doesn't seem to concentrate on cloning, but they're a handy way for Ed to engage in his apparent cloning hobby) and slap 'em (the pods) in Will's basement. Thankfully, each container contains a lump of primordial stuff that, when paired with someone's DNA and boosted with special cloning accelerants (perhaps on sale at Target), will transmorgify into a perfect, biological replica of that person, exactly as he or she looked when they died—right down to their old hairstyle. Alotted time? Seventeen days.

That should be just enough time to figure out a way to download Will's family's minds into their nifty new bodies with the help of a laptop or two—and ideally keep the new Fosters from immediately wanting to kill themselves.

Oh, and if breaking the laws of man, nature and God wasn't enough, Will has another favor to ask. Could Ed, on his way out, um, get rid of the bodies?

Other duties. Right. I'm pretty sure that Ed (as he presumably dragged Will's dead wife to his van) wished he had put a few more provisos in his contract.

Positive Elements

Will clearly loves his family. Like, a lot. I'm not sure if he ever told his kids that he'd do anything for them—literally anything. But if so, it wasn't an idle boast.

Spiritual Content

Before she dies, Will's wife, Mona, expresses some concern about Will's line of work. While Will's pretty sure that humans are just a summation of their biology and chemistry, Mona suggests, "Maybe there's more that makes us human. Like a soul." (The statement promises a much more interesting movie than Replicas winds up being, but still.)

As Will and Ed tinker with downloaded minds and cloned bodies, Ed says, "We're going straight to hell."

Sexual Content

Those perfecting the cloning process may have figured out a way to transfer hairstyles, but they still haven't mastered a way to keep the clones dressed throughout the process. They (the clones) float in a vat of semi-diaphanous ooze stark naked. And when the Mona-clone is removed from the vat (she's apparently pretty slippery, too), we glimpse the side of her breast, part of her backside and lots and lots of skin.

While Sophie's dead and being, um, regrown, Will learns that she had/has a boyfriend. Will reads a text from Sophie's phone from the fellow, who says his parents are gone for the weekend: Would she like to come over (heart-and-kissy-face emojis)? Will writes back pretending to be Sophie, telling him that she's grounded … 'til she's 18.

Ed's boat is named the "Shameless Hussy." Women sometimes wear formfitting or leg-revealing garb.

Violent Content

So, the car crash: Things go amiss when a tree falls in front of the Fosters' car and sends a branch through the windshield, impaling Mona. Will, understandably freaked out, loses control of the car, which hurtles off the road and into a deep pool or pond of some sort. The airbags don't go off, but no matter, because Will is unscathed when he wakes up (suggesting that he may be an M. Night Shyamalan superhero). Everyone else is dead, though: Will apparently pulls the bodies out of the car, because we see them all lying in the mud in a nicely symmetrical pattern.

The process of extracting someone's mind is really grotesque: A halo-like contraption is strapped on the deceased person's head, and a needle is lined up with the edge of the corpse's eye. The needle then shoots into the eye like a tiny harpoon, presumably sucking the dead person's thoughts through it, as one might suck a milkshake through a straw. (I'm just guessing here, really—the mechanics of the procedure are never clearly explained.) It's gross, but the dead don't particularly mind the procedure. But it is performed once on someone who's still alive, too, and that looks super-duper painful.

As already mentioned, transference of a dead mind to a synthetic body is typically an unsettling process. We see one such newly resurrected dude tear at his arms and face with his super-strong mechanical hands, ripping fabricated parts off as he does so. The team eventually "kills" the guy—again—by yanking out a bevy of cords he's connected to.

A man is choked and throttled by a robot: The victim soon expires on the floor, blood apparently seeping from his head. At least two people are shot and killed: One such victim is shown lying on the ground, a clear (but not terribly gory) bullet hole in his forehead. Several people are shocked via defibrillator resuscitation paddles while still alive. People stick other people with needles.

Crude or Profane Language

More than 20 s-words. We also hear "b--tard," "b--ch," "d--n," "h---" and "p-ss," along with euphemisms such as "frigging" and "jeez." God's name is misused about five times, once with the word "d--n," and Jesus' name is abused thrice.

Drug and Alcohol Content

We see Will and Mona drinking wine with dinner. Will injects his cloned family members with sedatives.

Other Negative Elements

So, yeah, there are lots of ethical issues with what Will and Ed are doing. Even Mona worries that it's impacting her husband: "I'm just worried you're losing sight of what's right and what's wrong," she tells him. It's a reasonable fear.

When his family dies, though, Will takes a step out of potential immorality and straight into illegality: Obviously, cloning a person is illegal in most places (including Puerto Rico). But Will and Ed also steal millions of dollars' worth of proprietary lab equipment—and the batteries from every car in Will's neighborhood—to make it happen. On top of all that, the company Will works for is also engaged in its own share of lying and subterfuge.

[Spoiler Warning] Ed, apparently, had only had three cloning pods available, and Will has four dead family members. He can't resurrect all of them, and so (pulling names out of a bowl) he decides to let Zoe, his youngest, stay dead. He's also not planning on telling his family that they're literally clones of their former selves: He hopes that they'll wake up without realizing that anything's amiss, but a missing child is bound to trigger a question or two. So he dives into the memories of his wife and surviving (?) kids and erases all traces of Zoe—literally removing her from their lives.

Conclusion

I think that once upon a time, the makers of Replicas had something serious on their minds.

If you can look past this movie's outlandish plot and narrative shortcomings—and let's face it, if you removed those, you'd have a 10-minute YouTube clip—you might have the kernel of a pretty compelling sci-fi story. It might've asked what makes us human (not animal, not machine) and what makes each of us unique. It could've delved into the power of memory and the concept of the soul. It could've turned Will into a far more complex, compelling character, one mangled in his own way by the car accident, pushed by grief and desperation to "correct" a terrible tragedy.

"What if something horrible goes wrong?" Ed asks Will before they embark on their alter-ethical experiment.

"Something already has," Will tells him.

Technically, of course, even that exchange makes no sense. If there's something horrible happening, and that horrible thing goes wrong, that might make it right … right?

But Replicas has no time to clean up its messy grammar, to ponder its messy plot paradoxes or to wade into its messy ethical conundrums. It doesn't have time to tell a sensical story at all. When the police knock on Will's door, they mention that car batteries have gone missing in the neighborhood—but never realize that his whole car has been left abandoned in a muddy pool by the side of the road. (The destroyed signs and guard rails should've been a dead giveaway, you'd think. But whatever.)

I mean, Will didn't even think to call the kids' school for five days after he started growing new children (precipitating an awkward and surprisingly easily resolved visit from one of the kids' teachers): "I've been a little busy, Ed!" he explains.

Yep, it's that sort of movie. I laughed more here than I did in Holmes & Watson, that's for sure.

But while accidentally fun in a dumb sort of way, Replicas is deeply troublesome, too. The fact that it feints toward a morally complex film and then quickly sprints into wildly implausible action-adventure mode makes it easy to forget that the road to the movie's (vaguely happy) ending is paved by ethically dubious decisions and broken commandments. If you go into this flick hoping against hope to take home a life lesson or two, all of 'em would be terrible. (The violence and language is problematic, too.)

Replicas, like most movies these days, seems open to launching a sequel. But this is one movie I'd rather not see replicated anytime soon.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Keanu Reeves as Will Foster; Alice Eve as Mona; Thomas Middleditch as Ed; John Ortiz as Jones; ; Emily Alyn Lind as Sophie; Emjay Anthony as Matt; Aria Leabu as Zoe

Director

Distributor

Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

January 11, 2019

On Video

April 16, 2019

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
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