Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Replicant (2001)

You never know what kinda shit you might find under your bed. I got home, after a hard day's work, to my sweltering apartment and realized I had nothing to watch. No Netflix, no recently purchased DVDs that have been sitting on my television for weeks, no cable TV. I thought about reading for about a minute to the point that I even took out a book I've been slogging my way through. Too fucking hot. That's when it hit me. Holy shit, I have one of those VCR machines. Under my bed was a box of VHS tapes. Surely there was something in there. Well, I pulled the sucker out, opened it up, and Lo and behold the first thing I set my eyes upon was this plastic wrapped, never been watched, copy of a Jean Claude Van Damme picture from earlier in the decade called Replicant. Didn't even remember where I got the thing...or even if I paid for it. Maybe it was a gift. Oh well, this sure as shit beats reading.

Fuck man, this picture is actually pretty fucking good, way better than I expected. I usually don't go for this direct to video action movie type shit. Too often they look cheap, are full of amateur actors, and too boring for my tastes. Well, this one looks good enough to show in an actual theater. It's full of very good action scenes, good acting (Yes, even from JCVD), humor, and some of the better stunt work I've seen in a while. It's a shame this thing's been trapped under my bed for the last 3-5 years.

What we got here is the story of a cop (Michael Rooker) one hour past retirement (interesting twist on the cliche) sticking around a little longer to chase a serial killer
he's obsessed over for the last few years. The killer, JCVD with long hair and looking like a heroin addict, kills mothers that he perceives to be unfit. He beats them to death, cuts them, burns them, and leaves the child to die. This is his M.O. and also what he does in that first scene. Rooker arrives just as the killer is leaving, saves the baby, and then pursues the killer. Holy shit, their encounter in the parking garage is a thing of beauty as Rooker clings to a gate while JCVD drives right through it, flipping Rooker over the length of the car at high speed. This one's full of terrific stunt work, the kind that they don't even attempt these days. Rooker (or, I should say his double) gets the shit kicked out of him in this movie.

So, the killer gets away and Rooker still retires (even receives a congratulatory call from the killer at his party). Rooker's not going to let this shit go so he accepts recruitment into an elite government anti-terrorist organization known as the NSF (National Security Force). These guys are on the cutting edge of science and have devised a cloning process that allows them to replicate JCVD (they found a hair at a crime scene) in the hope of using the replicant to catch the killer (replicant's have a genetic memory and also a telepathic bond with whatever they were replicated from). Unfortunately, once birthed they require a few hours to learn things like "sit, stand, walk" and also complex gymnastic moves. So, now Rooker will be teamed with this replicant and together will be tasked with catching the killer. Rooker has reservations, wonders what if the replicant turns bad, it's in his makeup, etc. He's told that "at the end of the day, a replicant is disposable." He's also like a dog apparently.

Well, this is it. This is the best performance of Jean Claude's career (and yes, I've seen JCVD and really liked it). As the killer, he is pretty much one-note but as the replicant we feel great sympathy for the guy, the ultimate fish out of water. He's trained like a dog, humiliated, told to sit, constantly handcuffed. He begins to understand this as just the way things are. Rooker treats him like shit at first. He brings him home at one point and when his kid gets hurt Rooker jumps to the conclusion that the replicant did it and reigns blows down upon him. He feels pretty bad when he learns that his actual dog, and not the guy he treats like a dog, was responsible. This is just like that movie Jet Li did, Danny the Dog, only it came out a few years earlier. This one's also better. We actually start to wonder if the replicant will become like the killer, maybe even join him. Our sympathies start to wane a bit and then he does something like save a hooker from her lifestyle and we're right back with him. He hardly speaks, but does a good job conveying this performance through his eyes, facial expressions, body language. He is like a dog, actually...almost completely lovable...even eats dog food at one point before learning about ice cream. Of course now he's going to expect ice cream all the time. It's impressive that he didn't phone this part in.

The developing relationship between Rooker and the replicant drives the picture. The story involving the serial killer is less effective. We got your typical product of an abusive childhood. The most interesting thing about the killer is he still visits his invalid mother in the nursing home. Of course, he forces her to look at photos of his victims but at least he makes the attempt which is more than I can say about several absentee sons and daughters I might know about.

The action scenes are almost all top notch. There's a solid bar fight, a nifty explosion, and the coup de grace is a chase through the old folks home where the killer uses whatever he can get his hands on (old guy in wheel chair, old guy's portable IV, another guy in wheel chair) to fend off his pursuers. This leads directly to another parking garage chase scene with the killer driving an ambulance and Rooker holding on for dear life. I'm trying, but having a hard time, to remember a theatrical action scene in the last year that tops this one. Maybe that has something to do with Hong Kong director, Ringo Lam. I don't know, I've never seen any of his other shit, but I'm planning on it now.

I also appreciated that this thing was filmed in Seattle and even acknowledged as Seattle. None of that "let's film it in Toronto and call it New York City" type bullshit. It was a good choice to have the killer JCVD wear his hair long so that when he fought the replicant JCVD they could actually use a double and we would buy it. When these guys fight it's pretty funny though. They are exactly alike, know each other's moves. Lots of ineffective roundhouse kicks and punching each other in the fists.

To sum up: Holy shit. I liked it, it's good. It might even be better than Timecop....or maybe I'm just over hyping it. My expectations were pretty god damned low. I liked so much about this movie though, the action, the ideas (something about free will and whether it's ethical to clone something for the purpose of harvesting organs or catching a killer or whatever), the stunts, and the performances. I loved the moment when Rooker walks the replicant out into the sunlight (his first time outside, ever) and asks an NSF agent for his sunglasses (to give to the replicant). The agent protests, says they cost 500 bucks, but relents. Rooker gives the replicant his sunglasses and keeps the expensive pair for himself. It's a little moment, but a good one. I also liked that in the end JCVD saved a Rooker and a hooker (sorry).


brian said...

Shit, I must have bad taste in movies. This thing's been widely panned, laughed at, disregarded, etc. It's probably not the best JCVD movie (although I'd still argue it's his best performance), but it was fun.

Forgot about 'The 6th Day' which several critics pointed out this is a rip off of. Oh well, I hated that movie, but I liked this one.

brian said...

I think somewhere I read that this was actually filmed in Vancouver and passed off as Seattle. My review is full of holes. Since I've never been to Seattle I was easily fooled. There was definitely a shot of Seattle's skyline in there though.

elmo said...

This I've gotta see! I'll rent it though, since the vcr's hooked up to, uh- nothing at the moment.