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1 review, 9 user ratings

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by Jack Sommersby

"Van Damme vs. Van Damme"
2 stars

It's a desperate miasma of much better films.

Star Jean-Claude Van Damme and director Ringo Lam teamed up for the superb 2003 prison movie In Hell that actually boasted a fair amount of emotional pull. While there were well-choreographed fight sequences galore, the movie dared to impart a reasonably persuasive pacifist message in the end, which was myopically blown off by the priggish who didn't care to see past genre expectations and wound up denying themselves a satisfying time. The dramatic aspects were pointed up as well as the action ones, with a never-better Van Damme and co-star Lawrence Taylor (previously a star defensive linebacker in a very fine performance) lending the story both soul and gravitas as feared-by-all cellmates with reawakened consciences. The best of its type since the excellent 1989 Sylvester Stallone star vehicle Lock-Up, it's one of those neglected little gems that's far better than most of the lot of today's big-budget fare that take the easy way out by emphasizing sensationalism over coherence. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for their previous outing, Replicant, which boasts a catchy story but winds up riding the surface of it rather than maturely delving into the witty and genuine dramatic possibilities that are clearly there.

The story involves a notorious serial killer called The Torch (played by Van Damme) who's been terrorizing the Seattle area for the last three years; his targets are young mothers whose verbal mistreatments of their young children in public set him off due to his horrid childhood at the hands of an abusive mother. He kills the victims in their homes, sets fire to the structure, and gets away scot-free with the forensic evidence going up in flames. (While it's probably logical for him to leave the child alive inside to burn so even the mere chance of identifying him is eliminated, something about it doesn't quite square in light of his wrath being directed at the mother rather than the child.) And doggedly on the case is detective Jack Riley (Michael Rooker), who's been heading the investigation from the onset yet has been frustratingly coming up goose eggs; even though he doesn't know his adversary's identity, the Torch knows his and taunts him over the phone. Having had enough, Riley decides to retire, but on his first day off the job he's pulled back in by a national-security force who enlists his services to catch the Torch by a very sci-fi means: from just one hair left at a crime scene, this secret organization has managed to grow a replicant of the killer (also played by Van Damme); and they want Jake to take him around to the former crime scenes to try to awaken the beast inside and sift for insight and clues.

Of course, before the replicant can enter the outside world, he's got to learn human basics like movement and speech and eating and the like (luckily, we're spared his potty training), which leads to a predictable array of scenes with his frightened-looking self scurrying around on the floor, hopping on chairs, and being perplexed at the TV monitor with an instructor tutoring him. And Van Damme, who showed some decent acting chops not only in In Hell but Hard Target and Timecop, is left falling back on the kind of wide-eyed mannerisms that quickly become monotonous; and even in the showier role of the villain he fails at emanating the necessary dangerous magnetism that would give things some charge. Eventually, Riley and the replicant partner up, and though some flashes of the Torch's actions break through, they're disappointingly bereft of nightmarish intensity -- we expect the replicant to be worth a couple dozen psychiatric sessions from the opening of the dark recesses of his telepathic mind, but it's mostly for moot because the patchy screenplay usually opts for taking the easy way out. And not just in these instances. We predictably get the replicant, who's escaped from Riley, coming across a red-light district and being taken up to a sleazy hotel by a hooker where he causes a ruckus after not being able to pay.

We also get second-level villains in the government agents tailing the heroes around even though they're understandably keeping tabs on their employer's million-dollar pet project. And, gosh forbid, there's even the token foul-tempered police captain who Riley has to stave off while getting help from his cop buddies. These tired cliches wouldn't irritate so much if there were some semblances of invention, like in maybe the replicant acquiring the seething bloodlust of his doppelganger so there'd be two full-blown psychos to contend with; or the Torch, when alone with the replicant, perhaps being a wee bit susceptible to his former non-violent self when faced with his double's aura of goodness that hasn't yet been blackened. Aside from the contextual myopia, there's also Lam's just-average direction that lacks flair and generates very little in the way of tension and excitement; there's nothing wrong with his technical handling of things but nothing that would elevate the proceedings to a somewhat higher aesthetic level. (It must be noted, however, that parking garages seem to give Lam some panache: his two best action set pieces take place in them.) So with all this and some truly poor dialogue, aside from Rooker's typical solidity (he can play heroes just as well as bad guys), Replicant might as well be titled Robotic in its impersonal, mechanical mediocrity.

You could do worse but definitely could do a lot better.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8270&reviewer=327
originally posted: 09/25/10 15:12:22
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User Comments

1/23/11 bill norris crap 1 stars
10/30/10 M.J. Hilariously bad. Viewable if you dont take it seriously. 3 stars
5/30/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess A dumb movie, but Van Damme's proformance kept me interested. (Never thought i'd say that) 3 stars
12/08/05 JM Synth About as good as DTV can get 4 stars
11/24/04 ALDO not bad ....compared to other van damme titles 4 stars
9/06/04 Sugarfoot It's actually surprisingly good. 4 stars
5/08/04 dead next door could been much better. 3 stars
10/17/03 Jack Sommersby Technically assured but medicore writing sinks it. 2 stars
10/16/03 Charles Tatum Crap like this is why Van Damme is now straight to video 1 stars
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  18-Sep-2001 (R)


  02-Feb-2001 (MA)

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