**/**** Image A Sound A- Extras B-
starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michael Rooker, Catherine Dent
screenplay by Lawrence David Higgins and Les Weldon
directed by Ringo Lam
by Bill Chambers Replicant is the best movie so far to feature Jean-Claude Van Damme in a dual role as identical twins. (That there's actually a choice in the matter is, however preposterous, secondary.) It transcends both Double Impact and Maximum Risk (from the same director as Replicant, Ringo Lam) by way of tight-ass Michael Rooker--who, like a human magnet, enters the story trailing pieces of his films Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and The 6th Day behind--and an irresistibly dopey ending that seems sentimental until you dwell on the particulars. What am I saying? The whole trying affair is irresistibly dopey. Kinetic, too.
Like much of Lam's work, Replicant has it in for innocents. The film opens with a long-haired Van Damme finishing off his brutal beating of a young mother (with her little boy watching) and then setting fire to the place, leaving the kid to fry. Rooker's Jake Riley, a police detective retired "as of one hour ago," leads a team to the woman's apartment, rescues the child, pursues Van Damme down a fire escape and onto the street, and becomes embroiled in a foot/car chase with the man we'll soon learn is a serial killer of pretty single-moms. And how do you stop such a monster from striking again upon losing him in a parking lot? Not the first thing that came to my mind, but apparently: you sample his DNA; Miracle-Gro a clone; teach the clone gymnastics (though not, apparently, any other skill); and hope that a combination of "genetic memory" and psychic harmony will motivate the replicant to seek out his progenitor. In the words of the Great Gonzo, well sure, if you want to do it the easy way.
Replicant's trashy formula plot is easy to follow so long as you make peace with some highly inscrutable character motivations. After National Security recruits Jake to babysit the clone, they have issues with his approach that never abate but also never seem to cause them to rethink the arrangement. Jake, desperate enough to catch his white whale to go along with this un-simple plan, nevertheless tries to return the clone any time he faces the slightest bit of criticism. And he is positively livid to find out that National Security ran a background check, which strikes him as more far-fetched than a Van Damme Xerox. As for Replicant himself, he is selectively intelligent: In a shameless Edward Scissorhands rip-off, he bumps his face trying to look beyond a car window, yet he manages to elude Rooker, purposefully and with ease, on more than one occasion. Did it ever occur to America's finest minds that their plan to duplicate a serial killer hoping he'll think like the serial killer and empathize with the serial killer but otherwise be a swell guy who'll help them apprehend the serial killer might have some flaws in it?
Lam, like a lot of his peers, is drawn to convoluted stories, although he lacks a certain storytelling finesse. Perhaps it's the language barrier, here; perhaps he is hoping that practice will one day make perfect. His talents lie in the action sequence--he can get you from fisticuffs in hospital cold storage to an ambulance chase in the basement parking lot without breaking stride. That he still hasn't sought the assistance of a computer in realizing his mayhem brings credibility to every smash-up--and unlike a few of his Hong Kong contemporaries, he doesn't trick up the energy with slo-mo or gimmicky points of view. He's hardcore.
Did I mention that Van Damme does the splits again? Mwah!
Artisan's DVD of Replicant is not your average straight-to-video release. (Bear in mind the film came out theatrically abroad.) The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is impeccable--I made note of a bandage that Evil Van Damme wears whose texture can be minutely observed. Edge-enhancement is not an issue in all of this, though colours tend towards muted. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is more than serviceable, while the LFE rarely lets up. Still, as the menus--in 5.1 as well--are more aggro and encompassing than anything in the feature, they might better lend themselves to a demo situation than Replicant proper.
"Special Features" include a film-length commentary intercutting Van Damme, who merely narrates, and Rooker, less pent-up than his onscreen persona, even genial. It's nice of him to deliver honest-to-God information about technical advisors, personal assistants, Lam's technique, and whatnot, which is more than you can say for Jean-Claude. A section of eight deleted scenes rounds out the backstory for Rooker's character and sees Van Damme performing a gag Kevin Spacey will soon repeat in K-Pax. (It also presents a hokier ending than the official one.) Step-frame storyboards, the majority depicting the clone's hatching, plus cast and crew bios and a 'redband' trailer finish off this informal SE.
100 minutes; R; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround; CC; Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Artisan