A great science fiction movie causes our brains to whirl around with a frenzied cacophony of questions—What does it mean to be human? How will we deal with the stark inevitabilities of our species’ continuing existence? Why would that smart, badass woman stop everything to strip down to her skivvies and rescue a goddamn cat?
Interestingly, though, a bad science fiction movie can do the exact same thing, only not in the way the filmmakers intended. Replikator is a film that begs at least two of the three questions asked above, but instead as viewers we find ourselves wondering why the future looks so much like the worst parts of the 1990s, how come these supposedly brilliant people have all of the spark of a rusted 70-year-old Zippo that hasn’t seen fluid since Marilyn Monroe died, and what the fuck is that Italian porn star doing there? But the biggest question Philip Jackson’s Toronto-lensed 1994 film compels us to ask is this: Did the filmmakers actually think they were being clever or were they fully cognizant of just how lame and hacky their collection of stolen references would seem nearly 20 years later?
That’s the fascinating thing about science fiction—it’s the one genre with the most volatile best-before date. Some examples manage to stay fresh and relevant despite the steady rush of time, while others go sour almost instantly and appear ridiculous and dated before they are served.
Obviously, Replikator is such a film, and the cause of its instant irrelevance is less a matter of budget and design (though those do play a part), than its relentless lack of imagination. It’s a science fiction film written by folks who like science fictions films, but are interested only in recreating the bits they enjoy, rather than work to create something new. “It’s Blade Runner meets Max Headroom!” you can hear them explaining to the film’s financiers, as if that alone would justify its existence.
Visually the film strikes the strange balance between a work where everyone involved had a clear vision and the complete inability to make that vision happen. It’s a drab movie with highly stylized framing—one that plays with shadow and light (Especially blue light. So much blue light. A Costco bulk bargain supply of blue light). But it never succeeds in making these shots interesting or compelling. It often feels like a high-school kid’s sincere attempt to make their own version of a Ridley Scott film, only without the part where you at least admire the effort that went into it.
Set in an unspecified future that appears to be a police state (though this is never confirmed. All we have to go on is that the local police system is the only form of government we’re exposed to), the world of Replikator is best described as Dystopian Lite. It’s polluted, cynical and full of corruption, but it seems to be that way less as a commentary on human weakness and more just because that’s how films set in the future are supposed to be. More often than not, Replikator justifies itself simply by referencing a famous movie—the world is like this because of A Clockwork Orange, not because it adds anything to the plot.
Speaking of the plot, it revolves around the development of replication (replikation?) technology that will eventually allow for the creation of human organs viable for transplant. At odds are the two companies, Bio-something and Z-word, who employ the two folks responsible for creating the first successful “replikator”—Michael St. Gerard and Brigette Bako.
St. Gerard plays a forger named Ludo Ludovic (Ludo is short for Ludovic, which the movie thinks is really clever), whose attempt to use the machine to create currency landed him in jail at the hands of the world’s last decent cop, Victor Valiant (Ned Beatty, visibly more embarrassed here than he was getting forcibly sodomized in Deliverance). Bako is Ludo’s bitter ex-girlfriend, Kathy “Kat” Moscow, who started working for Z-word while he was in prison and became his direct competitor when he was work-released to develop the technology at Bio-something.
The script positions Kat as a really smart person, but the usually charming Bako just doesn’t have it in herself to make the technical word salad coming out her mouth seem the least bit convincing. That—combined with her inability to tell that Z-word owner Byron Scott (Ron Lea) is an epic lying douchebag who is clearly only interested in the worst possible applications for the machine she is creating for him—contributes to the sense that Replikator is set in a world where all the really smart people are actually ginormous morons.
But, at least Kat appears to have something of a personality. Michael St. Gerard remains best known for playing a pre-fame King of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the short lived ’90s TV drama Elvis and in this—his last feature role—he proves that as an actor he really looked like a young Elvis Presley. But like a photocopy (photokopy?) of an original image, something is lost in the duplication (duplikation?). Which makes the fact that his character is eventually “replikated,” giving him two roles to be flat and uninteresting in, a problem the film cannot overcome.
Well, that’s not completely fair. As Ludo II, St. Gerard is more hammy and over the top than flat and one-note, but this extreme doesn’t serve the movie any better than the other one. As the film posits a situation in which a horny Ludo II reacts to a striptease by one-time Italian politician/porn star Ilona Staller (aka Cicciolina) like a wolf in a Tex Avery cartoon, the viewer (i.e., the dude writing this) cannot help but feel overcome by a sense of sadness. When a moment feels beneath the dignity of an Elvis impersonator and a woman most famous for exposing her breasts in front of the Italian parliament, you know something is seriously fucked up.
Per the rules of such things, Kat, Ludo and Valiant join up to stop both Ludo II and Scott as they go about their nefarious ways. Ludo II is undone by a flaw in his makeup that causes him to self-destruct (the script denies him an awesome “like tears in rain” soliloquy in favour of a lame helicopter chase), while Scott is betrayed by the corrupt forces he was in line with in the first place.
It’s all so very underwhelming. So much so that when our heroes suggest that it is likely that Ludo II predicted his demise and had time to create a Ludo III for a sequel, the sensation the viewer feels is one less of outrage and more of resigned helplessness. Fortunately for those of us who must deal with these things, the promise of a sequel to Replikator was broken when it became evident just how little anyone anywhere cared.