Monday, May 23, 2016
JCVD-A-THON: Replicant (2001)
a cult figure hadn’t yet happened. At most points during the 2000s, if Van Damme was in a movie, that usually meant it was an unremarkable affair destined to premiere on television or video store shelves. I could have picked any number of films to represent this low period. However, I decided on “Replicant” for a specific reason. I remember seeing a trailer or commercial for the film. At the time, it surprised me that a punchline like Van Damme could still headline a movie. He was so washed up even a kid recognized it. Years later, it’s time to judge “Replicant” on its own merits.
The city of Seattle is being terrorized by a serial killer. Known as the Torch, he breaks into the homes of single mothers, beats them to death, and then burns the building down. Detective Jake Riley is obsessed with the Torch and has been pursuing him doggedly for years now. After being forced into retirement, a secret government sector presents Riley with an unusual proposition. Using a piece of the killer’s hair recovered from a crime scene, scientists have created an adult age clone of the killer. The Replicant has the mentality of the child and a psychic connection with the real murderer. Riley takes the clone into his own home and treats him cruelly at first. As they draw closer to catching the killer, he develops an odd fondness for the copy.
Ringo Lam, one of those crazy Hong Kong filmmakers he likes. As a result, “Replicant” has an endearing kooky streak. I’m not talking about the ridiculous plot. (Why would the government go to the expense of cloning the guy when a number of easier, cheaper options must be available?) Instead, I’m referring to the oddball combo of genres. The film mashes up big action, silly sci-fi, crime thriller and a bizarre sense of humor. Moreover, “Replicant” seems to have some thematic concerns on its mind. It’s not so much a nature vs. nurture debate as it’s an interest in the effects of bad parenting. The Torch was abused by his mother and became an unhinged serial killer. The Replicant is treated cruelly at first as well. However, after Det. Riley opens his heart to the strange man, the Replicant’s good nature is revealed. None of this really crystallizes into a coherent whole but it certainly makes “Replicant” consistently interesting.
Once again, Van Damme is playing duel roles in a film. However, Van Damme’s performance is far more divergent then his work in “Double Impact.” As the titular character, he’s playing something akin to an idiot man-child. After plopping out of his artificial womb, the speechless Replicant watches an educational video where an older woman teaches him how to sit. (The ability to perform splits, however, seems born into him.) After Riley takes him home, the clone gets chained up in the basement, like an abused dog. This leads to an especially bizarre/homoerotic sequence where Michael Rooker stripes Van Damme down to his underwear. As unexpected as that moment is, the peak of weirdo humor in “Replicant” comes when the clone befriends a prostitute. While visiting her hotel room, he awkwardly dry-humps the woman until orgasm. The scene of Van Damme confused by the wet stain on his sweatpants afterwards truly must be seen to be believed.
Despite getting top billing and obviously being the star of the show, Van Damme is not truly the protagonist of “Replicant.” Michael Rooker plays Detective Riley, the man who actually motivates the plot. Rooker has always excelled at playing gruff characters. Even while ostensibly playing this film’s hero, he doesn’t back down on that gruffness. Riley is hilariously mean-spirited throughout the film. Despite the Replicant obviously being an innocent, Rooker still treats the character as if he’s the serial killer. This includes beating him, chaining him to a sink, and yelling profanity at him. Rooker is far too convincing as crazy, making it difficult to buy him as a hero. Having said that, “Replicant” still works pretty well as a grimy police thriller. The moments devoted to seeking out the murderer’s victims, where the cast look at grisly crime scene photos, are surprisingly effective.
Maybe my low expectations helped. “Replicant” is amusingly weird in spots. Jean-Claude Van Damme as a speechless child-like humanoid stumbling through an adult world is certainly a sight you won’t see anywhere else. As a sci-fi flick, it’s totally implausible and frequently ridiculous. As an action movie, it definitely provides the goods. As an off-beat genre film, it’s most entertaining. Truthfully, I’m surprised it doesn’t have more of a following. [7/10]
[THE VAN DAMMAGE: 4 outta 5]
 An Entire Fight, Sans Shirt
[X] Close-Up Screaming
[X] Jump-Kicks A Guy, Through Something
[X] Performs Either a Split or a Spinning Roundhouse Kick