REPLICANT is the second of three collaborations between director Ringo Lam (FULL CONTACT) and star Jean-Claude Van Damme. The first was the theatrically released MAXIMUM RISK (1996), then this came out in 2001, then IN HELL in 2003. I’m pretty sure I watched this when it first came out and thought it was boring, but I’m a different person now. A replicant of what I was before. Or just older, I guess. But the difference is that now I’m much more appreciative of JCVD the adventurous character actor, and this is one where that side of him really shines.
MAXIMUM RISK gave him a dual role, but not at once – he was a guy who dies at the beginning, then he plays his twin. In this one he plays both the antagonist and one of the protagonists, and they’re both fun characters for him to play.
The other novel thing about it is that Michael Rooker (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER) gets to play the hero, Detective Jake Riley. He’s a grouchy asshole cop but he’s a good guy, he’s not corrupt or anything, he’s trying to catch a serial killer played by Van Damme. The killer is mainly themed around killing women he thinks are bad mothers, but also he burns down their homes, so they nicknamed him “The Torch.” He lives in one of those creepy collaged-wall serial killer apartments, has a Marines tattoo on his right bicep, likes to call Jake to taunt him.
Riley has been chasing The Torch for three years, but now he’s “retiring for personal reasons” (to start a boat repair shop) without having caught him. He’s not at peace with that, though. During his retirement barbecue The Torch calls him and tells him he’s “a real loser,” so he flips out in front of everybody.
There’s a plan, though. An agency called National Security Force flies Riley out to a secret lab where, using a DNA sample found out one of the crime scenes, they’ve grown a clone – no, a replicant – of the killer. They’re working on this technology to catch terrorists, but a mere serial killer will do as a test case. It’s top secret, so Riley can’t tell anyone, but he will help this clone develop and see if he leads him to the killer. There does seem to be a psychic connection. Lam cuts to the killer sensing something as Replicant (as the NSF guys call him) is birthed from his slimy pod.
It’s like FACE/OFF in the sense that it takes this absurd sci-fi premise, treats it very seriously, and doesn’t even pretend to be in the future. Replicant wakes up in a high tech padded room, a video tries to teach him a few basics like standing up and sitting down, he crawls around like a monkey, looking at everything with a mix of curiosity and suspicion. Van Damme is great at it – not just the physical part, but the eyes. It’s vague about how it works. He can’t learn how to fit into civilization, but he’s able to watch a video of gymnastics and get really good at that.
Riley’s not so nice to him, handcuffing him and tasing him to make him do what he wants. Replicant just looks confused the whole time. Riley brings him to an old warehouse, pushes him around and gives him a gun to try to bring out his inner killer. He doesn’t understand, and then some NSF agents who are tailing them see him with the gun. I like how Van Damme points his back at theirs, just copying what they’re doing, clearly not understanding what it means. Look at his eyes in this picture! This leads to a scuffle where he climbs up things and uses a pipe as a gymnastics bar.
I didn’t understand until 35 minutes in that Riley had a wife (Catherine Dent, AUTO-FOCUS) and kid. He drags Replicant into the laundry room, handcuffs him to a pipe and tells his wife it’s “classified.” His son Danny feeds Replicant some ice cream, then gets hurt by the family dog. Riley misunderstands, so he goes in and kicks the shit out of Replicant. Whoops.
Next he brings him to his mom’s house, handcuffs him in the bathroom, and pulls his pants down to his ankles. Riley’s mom asks “Why are you treating people like that?” so he feels bad and puts a blanket over him. (Much later he’ll loosen up enough to buy him an ice cream cone. I vow to always respect any movie where someone feels sorry for Jean-Claude Van Damme and buys him an ice cream cone.)
Riley’s breakthrough is when he sneaks a photo of Replicant into police facial recognition software and finds out who The Torch is, including his address. (We also see on the screen that his profession is “Computer Game Analyst.”) When Riley goes to the stake out the guy’s apartment he leaves Replicant locked in the car, but Replicant breaks out and warns him when he has a sense there’s a bomb in the apartment. The Torch sees his duplicate outside the building and wonders what the fuck is going on, chases him into a bar and fights him. It’s a well done fight with Van Damme presumably performing both sides against doubles and then editing them together. When the bartender tries to call the cops the Torch throws a vacuum at him, then punches a bunch of glasses off the table, then throws the phone at him. Later he shoots him for no good reason. He’s a jerk.
The Torch takes the revelation of having a doppelganger pretty well. “What are you?”
“A clone. Un-fucking-believable. Fantastic. Beautiful. My exact replica. We are the same.” The Torch calls him “my brother” and tells him not to trust Jake. Then he escapes through an underground tunnel on a cool motorcycle.
Replicant is the meaty role for Van Damme, but The Torch is fun too. He has long hair, yellow-tinted glasses, leather jackets and gloves, like an evil guy. He doesn’t have much dialogue, doesn’t give any megalomaniacal speeches or anything, but it’s a fun novelty to see Van Damme using his powers for evil. There’s a scene where he chases a victim into a restaurant kitchen and starts kicking and throwing all the cooks and knocking things over. His best scene is the climactic fight in a hospital, where he goes to show his sick mother photos of his victims, and then kill her. He fights Riley and Replicant in the morgue – Riley’s gun ends up in a dish full of blood, bullets go into his mom’s corpse and some jars full of brains and stuff, Replicant gets stabbed by a scalpel. (I’m not sure why there’s a kitchen knife in there too.)
My favorite part is that as the Torch runs away he terrorizes a bunch of random patients and hospital staff – throws an orderly, pushes an old man in a wheelchair into a security guard, grabs the stand for a guy’s drip bag to bash the guard and knock him through a window, throws and kicks a couple other members of the hospital staff. He makes it to the garage, violently yanks an ambulance driver out of his seat, steals the vehicle, backs up into a guy in a wheelchair, then into a car, ejecting a gurney onto it. There’s some really cool stunt driving with the ambulance scraping against walls, cars, and columns, spraying sparks. It even starts catching air on speed bumps and hitting the ceiling, smashing the florescent lights.
Meanwhile, Riley is hanging on the side, climbing inside, strangling the Torch with his own seatbelt.
Of course Riley can’t end this on his own. Only a good JCVD can stop an evil JCVD. This time Replicant gets to use his acrobatics, including climbing up a rolling stairway. Since they think alike they keep spinkicking into each other’s spinkicks, punching each other’s punches, until Replicant gets into the groove, starts anticipating and dodging the moves. Repli-can’t? No. He repli-can.
The action director is Martin Zounar, who did the same for STREET FIGHTER. According to IMDb, future ATOMIC BLONDE director David Leitch was one of Van Damme’s doubles, uncredited. The credited one is Christopher Gordon, who later doubled Tom Cruise on five different movies. The script is credited to Lawrence Riggins (IRONHEART) and Les Weldon (THE ORDER). I heard it was originally written as a comedy, but I can’t picture how that would work.
This is not script related, but I wanted to mention it: I think this might be the only movie where Van Damme wears Airwalks.
Another unusual part of the movie is in a tangent where Replicant is separated from Riley, and gets picked up by a hooker (Marnie Alton, CABIN BY THE LAKE). He doesn’t understand paying, or how to be gentle, so she pushes him off and calls her pimp. Then she sees that he prematurely ejaculated, feels sorry for him and (in lieu of buying him an ice cream cone) tries to let him go, but two pimps come in and he has a violent fight with them. He wins, the cops (with Riley) show up and take him away, and (oddly) the hooker tells him to look her up when he gets out. And at the end of the movie he finds her and she’s happy to see him. I think she might be just taking him to the hotel for a freebie, but it plays like a “happily ever after” ending. That’s weird, but more notably I believe this might be the only Van Damme movie (so far) with a scene about him cumming in his pants.
Even without that historic distinction, this would be a good one.
P.S. Seattle shit:
REPLICANT is set in Seattle. I don’t know if that’s because we have a reputation for tech, or because we have a reputation for serial killers. In the opening I thought they were actually shooting in Seattle for real because The Torch gets on an old Metro bus with the correct signage and everything. But I wasn’t able to identify any Seattle locations around them, and there are definitely some Vancouver ones, so it’s very possible somebody just owns a Seattle bus in Vancouver for all the Vancouver-as-Seattle shoots. I think the only actual Seattle is a couple of establishing shots, and they still use Vancouver for the part where a helicopter flies over the water towards the city. (I admit it’s got a similar look.)
Obviously Van Damme wasn’t in the real-Seattle scenes of NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER either, so I don’t know if he’s ever been here. Hopefully some day he’ll do the splits on top of the Space Needle or something. (I would say between Bruce and Brandon’s graves, but that might be a bit much.)