Judge Gordon Sullivan hopes there aren't really four Van Dammes running around out there.
The future's most ruthless killer…to destroy him, they had to create him.
Seriously, what the heck is it with Jean-Claude Van Damme playing doubles? Replicant marks the third time the "muscles from Brussels" has stepped in front of the camera to play twins, or clones, or guys who look alike. It's pretty weird, if you ask me. I know lots of people have played twins before, but I'm struggling to come up with any actors who've done it twice, let alone three times. I'm sure part of the reason Mr. Van Damme gets to play so many doubles is that it creates a built-in excuse for his thick accent and less-than-expressive acting because one of his characters can be more mute, while the other can be more like Jean-Claude's "persona." Such is the case in Replicant (Blu-ray), where Jean-Claude plays a serial killer who attacks young mothers, burning them after death. The detective assigned to his case, Jake (Michael Rooker, Slither), decides to leave after failing to catch the killer, known as "The Torch." Later, Jake's offered the chance to track down his former foe when an agent reveals a top-secret government project that has created a clone of the Torch, and they want Jake to awaken the killer inside so the clone will help them track down the Torch.
On the page, Replicant sounds like a great idea. We've got clones, martial arts, serial killings, and secret agents. If that's not a recipe for a slam-bang action movie, I don't know what is. I'm not talking grand opera here, but the makings of a spectacular direct-to-video popcorn-actioner are all there. Sadly, the pieces don't quite mesh into a worthwhile whole.
The story could have gone any number of ways, either playing up the sci-fi aspects of the cloning, doing a psychological exploration or doubles and psychology, or minimizing plot for non-stop action. Rather than picking one route and sticking with it, Replicant tries to blend all three. Obviously cloning is a huge part of the plot, and although we get some futuristic shots of the lab where Jean-Claude was "grown," the more sci-fi stuff is kept to a minimum, although the whole "psychic connection" between the clones is a bit overdone. The script is obviously trying to push the psychological edge, but it doesn't have a whole lot to say other than abused children grow up to be serial killers.
The final part of the film, action, is decent but not overwhelming. Considering this is a 101-minute film, I expected more beat-downs. Replicant opens strong with the almost-capture of the Torch, and gives a few smaller fight scenes with the clone in the beginning, but the martial arts (especially the Van Damme vs. Van Damme action) is too infrequent, and the final climatic battle didn't offer anything spectacular.
Most of the major acting is done by leads Jean Claude Van Damme and Michael Rooker, both of whom do well in their own way. Rooker is talented enough to play the gruff Jake in his sleep, so his performance is unsurprisingly good. It's not going to win any awards, but Jake's dedication and anger are both rendered effectively. Van Damme actually makes an effective foil for Rooker. As the Torch he gets by mainly on greasy hair and deadly looks, but he does an effective job of projecting menace. As the clone, Van Damme does an even more interesting job acting like everything he encounters is new. Yes, his accent makes him seem more wooden than he should be, but the characters provide a good cover for those moments.
On Blu-ray, Replicant looks pretty good. Although the picture isn't perfect, it's surprisingly strong and detailed for a direct-to-video action film. The film itself is fairly grainy, but grain is well-rendered and detail is generally high. On the audio front everything is equally solid, with clear separation and well-balanced dialogue.
Extras kick off with a commentary featuring Rooker and Van Damme. Sadly, they were recorded separately, but both talk about their involvement in the film and how they prepared for their roles. Since it sounds like they admire each other, I would love to have heard them discuss the film together, but what's here is good for fans of either actor. There are also 20 minutes of deleted scenes, with a decent mix of cut violence and character development. Finally, there are still pictures and storyboards from the film.
I don't think Replicant ever quite gelled for me as an action film, with a little too much emphasis on the hokey psychology. However, it's above-average for a Jean-Claude Van Damme picture, and fans will certainly enjoy seeing him fight himself. The upgrade in presentation for this Blu-ray will make it pretty easy to recommend to fans of the film, while most martial arts/action viewers should probably give this disc a rental.
Guilty or not guilty, depending on your opinion of Mr. Van Damme.
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