Replicant 2001 | Movie Watchlist

Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

Hong Kong-born director Ringo Lam, whose CITY ON FIRE (1987) inspired RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), helmed this direct-to-DVD sci fi/action hybrid showcase for Belgian martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme, who does double duty as a vicious serial killer and an innocent clone.

Seattle cop Jake Riley (Michael Rooker) has spent three years trying to catch "The Torch" (Jean-Claude Van Damme), an elusive serial killer who targets single mothers for being bad parents and kills their children into the bargain. Taunted by the Torch's insinuating phone calls, Riley opts out of the game: He retires from the force for a quiet career fixing boats. But the NSA hauls Riley back in, revealing that they've created a genetic duplicate of the Torch from a hair follicle found at one of the murder scenes. They want Jake to bond with the wide-eyed "replicant" (also Van Damme) they've created and do whatever it takes to jog the genetic memories he shares with his murderous original: If Jake succeeds, the replicant will lead him straight to the murderer. But things are never so simple. Though Jake at first treats the replicant like a rabid animal, he gradually comes to realize that the Torch's clone isn't the Torch. He's the same blood, but not the same mind and his nature isn't set in stone. Under Riley's supervision, the replicant's inherited memories begin to emerge, a horrifying stew of child abuse and murder. Meanwhile, the Torch -- who emigrated to the US from South Africa in 1995 under the name Edward Garrotte -- becomes uneasily aware of his doppelganger's existence. Where does the replicant's allegiance lie: With the monster whose DNA literally made him what he is, or the man who reluctantly taught him what it means to be human?

Leaving aside the ridiculous off-handedness with which human cloning is treated -- down-to-Earth cop Riley's non-plussed reaction to the revelation that the NSA has duplicated the Torch is a little hard to buy -- REPLICANT is actually pretty entertaining. Van Damme actually does a solid job of differentiating between the dead-eyed, lank-haired, emotionally damaged killer and the unformed replicant, whose reluctant "parent" ushers him into a brave new world of pain and betrayal. The action sequences are well staged and credit where credit is due: The 40-year-old martial artist still has the physical goods, executing 180 splits and gymnastic stunts with the grace and apparent ease of someone much younger.