More so than any of his action peers, Muscles from Brussels Jean Claude Van Damme has something of a penchant for making dour, miserable movies in which he gets his ass handed to him by near enough everyone. In Replicant, JCVD spends much of the considerable running time either in handcuffs or as Michael Rooker's bitch. And when not being abused by Rooker, the poor fooker gets beaten to a pulp by a gay(er) looking version of himself. Replicant is not JCVD's lucky movie. Although it could be worse; it could be In Hell, a prison movie so depressing that it makes the darker scenes in The Shawshank Redemption look positively Disney.
JCVD plays 'Torch', a serial killer who's offing women and prank-calling cop Michael Rooker to brag about it. Pissed off with this behaviour, Rooker takes delivery of Torch's clone (also played by JCVD) in the hope that he can use his magic clone powers to hunt the killer down. Like Keanu Reeves in The Watcher, JCVD doesn't make a very convincing serial killer. His idea of menace is speaking slightly gruffer than usual, wearing a long leather jacket and not washing his hair. It's an odd choice having Van Damme play a serial killer, since I don't recall seeing Charles Manson or Ian Brady ever do split kicks or acrobatic kung-fu. You can never really buy that Torch gets his kicks (no pun intended) from murdering innocent women, since he seems more the terrorist or arms dealer type.
His clone - simply named 'Replicant' - requires an altogether different acting style from Van Damage. He spends pretty much the whole movie wearing a dumb, slightly-aspergers', hangdog expression on his face. It's eminently kickable, and you can kinda see why Cop Rooker hates him so much. Slightly disturbing are the brothel scenes. Did anyone ever need to see Jean Claude Van Damme come in his own pants? No, I didn't think so. But at least this is followed by a sequence in which he actually fights something. Fight scenes in Replicant are too few. But I digress, because Van Damme's acting is actually pretty good as The Replicant. He's as sympathetic as he is punchable.
Playing it entirely unsympathetic and unlikeable is Michael Rooker as Jake. Rooker is a brilliant actor, but his character here does him no favours. He pretty much spends the entirety of the movie whaling on a mentally disabled man. Not cool, Jake. Even more uncomfortable than the brothel scenes are the ones in which Jake strips a handcuffed Replicant down to his underpants and carries out a very thorough body search. A mutual respect is eventually built up between him and his Replicant, but it's impossible to like a man who treats the mentally disabled like a pet. Imagine if Morgan Freeman had spent most of Unleashed beating the shit out of Jet Li and forcing him to eat dog food. Replicant is like a very cruel and violent version of Forrest Gump.
It's passable enough, though. The action scenes are well-done, the story gripping and the acting surprisingly good. It certainly beats Schwarznegger's own clone movie into a cocked Belgian hat. It's just a shame that Mister Jean Claude couldn't cheer up a bit. Doing the splits isn't quite as impressive when you're wearing a face like a smacked bottom.