Replicas deals with William Foster (Keanu Reeves) as he specializes in synthetic biology, as well as the mapping of neural pathways into alternative host bodies. When his family gets killed in a car crash, the scientist decides to use his technology and overall expertise to grow clones of them and transfer their minds into these bodies.
However, this doesn't go off without a few hitches along the way since he has to steal resources from his company, Bionyne. As he goes along conducting this project, it's clear Will is fashioned after Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Sadly, Replicas, as much as it tries, fails to hit the mark as a Frankenstein movie for a few reasons.
The first issue is that there's no heart, soul or emotional connection to the man or the "monsters" he's creating. When crafting a Frankenstein adaptation, this is an essential part of the story, the aspect that leads readers/viewers to truly appreciate both parties. In Mary Shelley's tale, we felt this connection to Victor, who was seeking to create life after his mother died. In the 1931 film, it was about the doctor being a narcissist whose ego saw him trying to transcend his fellow man. In Boris Karloff's Frankenstein 1970, it was about the doctor trying to feel good about his work after mistreatment by Nazis. And in the 1994 movie, it was about understanding disease, death and trying to prevent the loss of life.
Apart from the god complex, Frankenstein always has some sort of sound reasoning for wanting to show the world he has the ability to create life. In Replicas, the way Will mixes and matches scientific procedures to assemble his family is very similar to Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, but instead of chopping up random body parts and stitching an abomination together, Will goes about his business cloning, neural implanting, hacking his family's minds and altering their memories. It's a modern-day, highly-advanced Frankenstein, but Will comes off so robotic and has no method to his madness, randomly pulling deus ex machinas from all corners of his science lab, it makes it tough to take his resurrection project seriously.
Out of the blue, his friend Ed (Thomas Middleditch) pops up as the only guy who can clone his family, although he's been failing with animals at Bionyne. It's plot convenience at its worst, complicated by the fact that we really have no clue who Will is. We feel his pain and empathize that he's lost his family, but we have no idea who they are, so there's no connection to them. We can't connect to Will's anguish, either, as he was randomly and without conscience able to transplant the brains of dead people into robots with little muss or fuss.
It's not clear whether Will iss the villain, until a more obvious one arrives in a forced manner when Bionyne boss, Jones (John Ortiz), randomly shows up, admitting he knows about Will's experiments and then wanting his family dead as they're corporate property created through criminal means. But rather than offer seem clarity to Will's story, it convolutes the plot, which should have just focused on Will and his family regaining the memories he deleted.
Despite their emotional heft, Frankenstein stories are, at their core, a simple concept. They work best when they're simple narratives, despite their audacious premises. It's usually about a man who either loses control of his monster (which Will's wife does do in small spurts), or the man going off his rocker and becoming a crazy scientist ready to unleash chaos on the world. Unfortunately, Replicas doesn't know what it wants to be, cribbing from I, Robot, A.I. and The Sixth Day.
It decides to, well, frankenstein all these movies into one, and in the end,Will is a doctor we can't sympathize with beyond the surface issue of him loving and missing his family as we didn't get any sense of character or ambition before or after the rebirth. Instead, he's just a reactive quack. The lack of an antagonist amplifies this issue, making the experience of seeing the film akin to watching an awful science documentary. In the end, while the movie wants to present Will as a man we should feel for, it falls totally flat because he has no clue how to use his technology using his heart rather than his head.
Replicas, directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff from a script by Chad St. John, stars Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, Thomas Middleditch, John Ortiz, Emjay Anthony, Emily Alyn Lind, Aria Leabu and Nyasha Hatendi.