Friday, October 11, 2013

Universal Van Damme: Replicant (2001)

A serial killer known as The Torch (Jean-Claude Van Damme in a stupid wig, and giving a surprisingly boring performance) has been working in beautiful Seattle for the past three years, punishing women for not being excellent to their children. Not that the police have actually gotten this far in understanding his motivation, for our protagonist, Detective Jake Riley (Michael Rooker, in his incarnation as a consummate professional who really doesn't care what crap a script throws at him, he'll pretend to take it seriously), might very well be the Worst Police Ever, what with his propensity for sudden, uncontrolled violence and his inability to catch a killer who even phones in regularly.

Fortunately for the public, Jake is retiring from his job; unfortunately, The Torch doesn't care and keeps on calling. But don't fret, people of Seattle, the government in form of something called the NSF (so not the infamous data sponge and hater of civil rights) is on the case. Well, actually, they just want to help out on the case to test out their newest program against terrorism, which consists of making clones of terrorists, or in this case our killer, building up a telepathic connection between the clones and the originals, and using the clones as some kind of human blood hounds. Because this isn't stupid enough, our NSF friends decide that the best man to play the replicant Torch's (also JCVD, but doing his puppy-eyed shtick, and gymnastics) handler is Jake Riley. At least it's keeping with the spirit of the rest of the program.

At first, Jake is - of course - abusing the child-like innocent killer clone even when he's not demonstrating a propensity for violence and near-rape (but don't worry, the prostitute falls in love and becomes part of the film's happy end, so there's nothing to see here, right? Right!?), but he is eventually won over by the power of buddy cop movies or of JCVD making puppy eyes at him. But will the RepliTorch still become like his original, or is the much superior nurture of getting abused by a (probably alcoholic) cop instead of getting abused by one's mother going to keep him on the path of angels?

So, let's not put too fine a point on it - as you will have realized, Replicant is not just rather on the stupid side (and I've left out more stupidity than I left in in the above, like the scene in which Rooker's mum basically tells him that he's a poophead, or the "humour" of Van Damme as the replicant trying to understand the guiding principles of toilet paper), it's also thematically and ethically confused like a dog trying to decide if it should dive into that tasty, tasty trash can or rather do what its master says and abstain. As far as I understand the film's morals, abuse is okay when you think your victim is evil, but when you later decide otherwise, the former abuse is no big deal (and your victim will become your best bud); attempted rape isn't so bad when you're a virginal clone (and your near victim will be really into you). Seriously, I don't even know what to say to that, much less how to criticize it in detail. So I won't.

On the other hand, if you go into Replicant and are - like me - somehow able to not find yourself provoked into angrily throwing food at the TV screen, nor into crawling into a corner to shake and whimper to yourself, you might actually have quite a good time with it. There's something very alluring about the film's desperate attempts to hit all the the plot beats of buddy cop movies, include all of the trademark elements of every Jean-Claude Van Damme film ever (the scene of random beefcake, the double role, the puppy eye tragedy, the gymnastics, the idiotic wig on the killer and so on, and so forth), add as many elements of serial killer movies, shake, stir, and look surprised when the audience's heads explode. At the very least, there's never a dull minute here, as director Ringo Lam (who really had better days in Hong Kong) puts out all the stops his tiny budget allows him to, resulting in entertainment. Even if it is entertainment through absurdity, anti-logic, and Jean-Claude looking at toilet paper with greatest confusion.

What there is of action is clearly cheap but good, with a highly localized fight between man and ambulance the clear high point. The fights between Van Damme and Van Damme are fast but not that great, probably because most of the time they have to be choreographed within the constraints of an actor fighting himself, and not in an Evil Dead 2 kind of way. Generally, though, the action still satisfies.

Though really, even if the action were barely watchable, I suspect Replicant would still be worth watching, if only to shout "what the hell!", "are they really going to…?" and "oh, come on!" at the film.

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