Monday, August 16, 2010

Replicant (2001) - By Mark Oswald

Once again Jean-Claude Van Damme is in a movie playing two identical characters; whether they’re twin brothers, or technically the very same person, he really seems to love this kind of shit. This fascination began in 1991 with the ‘brothers separated at birth but reunited by their parents’ former bodyguard to avenge their deaths’ picture, Double Impact (not to be confused with the absurd buddy movie Double Team starring Van Damme and Dennis Rodman). This bizarre cinematic fetish continued on in Time Cop, Maximum Risk, and the subject of today’s discussion, Replicant.

The Room 2 starring Jean-Claude Van Damme

When the film starts out, we see a mother being terrorized in her apartment by an unseen assailant, but when the camera pans up to the intruder’s face, it’s Mr. Jean-Claude (with greasy chin-length hair and lame yellow-tinted sunglasses, like some Euro-pop singer/snowboarder). He proceeds to set the woman on fire, and then sing “Rock-a-Bye Baby” to her infant child before leaving it to burn along with its mother. First of all, it’s kind of a shock to see Van Damme as a cold-blooded killer, but when he makes an escape being chased by Michael Rooker, you could make the inference that you’ll be rooting for Rooker instead of Van Damme, when in actuality, you will be rooting for both, in a sense. Mind blown yet? Very good, let’s continue…

You see Michael Rooker’s character is a cop who’s been playing a game of cat and mouse with this psychopath for years. He even gets calls from him while at his retirement party. After escaping capture yet again, it is revealed that a high-level government organization has secretly cloned (replicated) JC’s character from a strand of hair left at an earlier crime scene. They’ve been growing him for some time now, in hopes that this Replicant will possess some kind of psychic link to the killer, and will in turn help in bringing him to justice (seems to me like they put an awful lot of money into the project based solely on this whole psychic connection theory, but they must have felt pretty strongly about it; and I'm no scientist, so I'm not going to judge?) The G-Men want Rooker to work with him, based on his vast knowledge and experience with the case.

If you have been following JC’s DTV timeline you may have noticed a visible enhancement of his acting ability, rather than just his “doing the splits” ability. I haven’t seen all of his DTV features, mind you, and he didn’t seem to be giving it his all in The Hard Corps, but I’ve been thoroughly impressed with his dramatic work in Wake of Death, In Hell, Until Death, and of course JCVD. Some of these performances have actually been hampered by the other actors around him not being nearly as good, which is weird, but overall I’m trying to say that he’s gotten a lot better. By the time he did Replicant, however, I don’t think he had yet reached his full potential as an actor. Here he does get to branch out though. As I said, he finally gets to play a villain, but in addition to that, he gets to play a clone/man-child/animal-boy/wannabe gymnast. Once he is created, he must be taught how to walk and talk, and overall just act like a human being. He is shown gymnastic videos which teach him to be athletic and do splits and stuff. So for once in Van Damme’s filmography, a movie actually goes out of its way to explain his penchant for doing the splits. I also thought that the martial arts wizardry of Gymkata was going to make a triumphant return, but I was sorely mistaken. There is a scene later on, where after forming a stronger connection to his killer other half, he starts performing martial arts moves as if from muscle memory. Both JCVDs start fighting each other with the exact same moves, but don’t seem to be making contact because they completely cancel out each other’s maneuvers. Admittedly though, the whole thing would be a lot more exciting if they would use more than only three moves. Seriously, come on guys.

Michael Rooker’s character gets the thankless job of bringing the Replicant around to different places, trying to jolt some of his memories in order to find them a lead. I’ve always liked Michal Rooker. He’s not what you’d call a handsome leading man or anything, but he’s consistently intense and always seems to be putting his best foot forward, performance-wise. He did gain some minor acclaim with his work in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but I remember him most from his roles in Mallrats, Cliffhanger, and a random made-for-TV action movie I saw as a kid called Back to Back.

Directed by Ringo Lam, who also collaborated with JC on Maximum Risk and In Hell, a good job is done with keeping the pace up while also delivering several assorted action moments differently than I have seen them done before. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why, but many times when a car crashed or a body got slammed through something, it seemed new. It could be the framing or camera placement, but a lot of the stunts came off as a lot more exciting than in other films where I’ve seen similar moves orchestrated not quite as affectively. Unlike some of Van Damme’s other DTV efforts, the budget on this one seems a little higher as well. The government facility where Replicant JCVD is grown and trained is a flashy, slightly futuristic looking area that must have taken some time and money to create. The overall look and coloring of the movie is a kind of cheap, but what is shown within obviously took some skill to produce.

Jean-Claude's all tuckered out after the Jim Varney look-a-like party

While the story itself is only slightly unique and the theme may seem a little low rate to non-action fans, I found Replicant to be an altogether enjoyable experience. It’s not as good as some of my Van Damme favorites like Sudden Death, or even other dual-Van Damme pictures like Double Impact and Maximum Risk, but it’s definitely better and/or less bizarre than Double Team and the general unenthusiasticness of The Hard Corps. I’d say rent this or Watch Instantly on Netflix if you get the itch.

Body Count - 7

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