On paper The Replicant might sound like typical straight-to-video schlock. It features an action star who’s clearly not the box-office draw he once was, it’s about a clone and has no real big names attached to it other than said action star.
The action star is Jean-Claude van Damme and Replicant was made around the time when his movies started to go straight to video, the budgets became smaller and the cast started to consist of more and more unknown actors.
No Roger Moore, Kylie Minogue or Rosanna Arquette here!
But Replicant was also released around the time Van Damme started to take on more interesting projects and started to show us he could actually act.
Replicant is about a serial killer named The Torch, played by Van Damme, who kills young single mothers after which he sets them on fire, hence the name. He’s been active for 3 years now and the police have yet to capture him. The cop leading the investigation is Det. Jake Riley (Michael Rooker) who’s on his last day before retiring from the force as he’s to open a boat repair shop. He responds to a crime scene from the Torch and comes face to face with him, only to be almost run over by him before he flees the scene. Riley then gets picked up by a couple of National Security guys who apparently have taken the DNA of The Torch from an earlier crime scene and created a perfect clone, a Replicant as they call it.
Somebody has been watching Blade Runner once too often.
The catch: well even though the Replicant is a fully grown clone, he lacks basic communication skills; This is a 40 year old baby. Luckily he learns fast but the surprise element here is that The Replicant is actually Van Damme’s “Rain Man”. When we first meet him jumps around as a monkey, you have to see it to believe it.
So Van Damme plays a ruthless serial killer and a mentally underdeveloped character, and he actually pulls it off! While he will never win an award for his performance here, the way he plays the replicant as kind of a retard is fun and refreshing. The same goes for the serial killer. Van Damme has played bad guys before, but only Russians who were mostly mute in movies that didn’t even revolve around him.
When you think about it, Van Damme is a secondary character in this movie as well. Despite having Van Damme’s name in big letters above the title the protagonist here is actually Michael Rooker. He’s the man hunting for The Torch, The Replicant is just a means to an end. Van Damme is his Dustin Hoffman to his Tom Cruise.
This being Michael Rooker, you should not be surprised to hear that his character isn’t someone you root for. He’s incredibly harsh on The Replicant at first, tying him up constantly, even beating him for something that will turn out to be a misunderstanding. Though The Replicant at first behaves animalistic, Rooker is the guy that would beat a dog when it doesn’t obey his commands.
Overall the movie is a bit of hit and miss. It feels fresh for a Van Damme vehicle and is definitely a welcome addition to his filmography, but on the other hand it never develops its characters aside from the two parts Van Damme is playing. The whole clone element has been done before all too often. Schwarzenegger’s The Sixth Day for instance, wasn’t even that old when this movie was released.
Also nobody ever seems to be amazed they managed to clone a complete human being.
Furthermore, the relationship between Riley and Angie is never really explained and most of the fights in the movie are between Van Damme and his stunt double, who’s also clearly a gymnast using gymnastics during some of the fight scenes.
This might be the closest thing the world has come to a Gymkata sequel.