Before making Birdemic: Shock and Terror, San Franciscan filmmaker James Nguyen followed up his first feature film Julie and Jack with the scientific ‘thriller’ Replica (2005) – a cautionary tale about the dangers of stem cell research and cloning technology. As one would hope, Nguyen really delivers with this film. His iconic and crappy scene construction, terrible visual effects, sub-par performances, and an all-too-familiar story structure are all at play here – and they’re all hilarious. If you’re fan of his other work, Replica is definitely worth your time.
Set in a world where awful CGI backdrops are disproportionately larger than the people who occupy them, the visual style is a little different from Nguyen’s standard fare. He tries to pass off blue screen sequences as an entire room, and the inadequate actors can’t quite convince us that they’re really occupying the cartoony space that surrounds them.
Due to proximity to the green screen, characters are forced to mime walking rather than actually moving in the frame.
Nguyen has a knack for recycling the same plot structure in each film he makes. Instead of the standard three acts, his screenplays settle for only two. In all four of his films, we spend the first half of each movie following a dim-witted, unremarkable salesman type who meets a woman way out of his league, and we witness the courtship that follows. The only thing worse than the cringe-worthy love dialogue is the insincerity of the actors delivering it.
In Replica, our romantic lead tries to run over his love interest with his car.
Now, at a certain point in every film, the young couple’s relationship progresses to the physical realm, and that’s when all hell breaks loose. If you ever find yourself getting laid in a James Nguyen movie, the next scene is bound to spell disaster. It seems no one ever told the filmmaker that the inciting incident in any story is supposed to occur in the first fifteen minutes or so. Instead with a Nguyen film, half of the movie will be pointless filler before things actually get going.
No one told Nguyen not to point dirty camera lenses directly at the sun, either.
In Julie and Jack, the surprise twist is that the girl Jack’s been courting is really a ghost. Then in both Birdemic movies, the movie shifts gears from a love story, to a bird attack movie immediately after the leads first have sex. But with Replica, as the title would suggest, the post-coital tonal shift instead discusses the ethics of cloning.
After our main characters Evelyn (Lana Dykstra) and Joe (John David Braddock) first consummate their relationship, Evelyn is killed in a tragic hit-and-run car accident. Now, keep in mind that Evelyn was a researcher studying cloning and stem cell research. Just a few weeks after her death, Joe meets Claudia, a girl who looks identical to Evelyn, but he’s too dense to realise she’s a living clone.
It’s around this point that the movie reveals Evelyn’s fellow researcher, known as ‘Doctor G’ (Rick Camp), wanted to take full credit for the scientific breakthroughs they were making in their lab. He hired a hitman and had Evelyn killed, eliminating his collaborative partner. However in a logic-defying stupor, he cloned her after killing her…. which does not help his plan at all. Rather than eliminating his competition, he’s created a double of her for no reason.
Lord Vader…. Rise….
Meanwhile, Joe continues to date Claudia, chasing after her only because she looks like his dead ex-girlfriend. He even creepily asks her to dress like Evelyn and dye her hair. And the worst part? Claudia agrees! What self-respecting person would let some creep dress them up to look like their ex? He obviously doesn’t want you if he’s asking for that.
They may look the same, but they can’t be – Claudia has that temporary tattoo on her back!
Eventually Joe figures out that Claudia is a clone of Evelyn, but only because they had the same jewelry. Her identical looks don’t give her away, it’s the fact that they own the same bracelet – that’s what allows his idiotic brain to make the connection. Now here’s where this plot really becomes nonsense – not that it isn’t already. Joe confronts Claudia about the bracelet, and she reveals that she still has Evelyn’s brain. That she remembers their prior relationship, and that she’s known she’s a clone the whole time. Why did she wait so long to admit it? Why the charade that she’s Claudia, this completely other person with her own personality? She could have rekindled her relationship without as much tension. And more importantly, she could have gone to the police and had Doctor G’s operation shut down a lot sooner. And speaking of Doctor G, why would he even let her go out on her own after creating her? Wouldn’t he want to monitor the first human clone in his lab?
Anyway, when Joe and Evel-dia finally do confront Doctor G, his speech is beyond priceless. He holds the two of them at gunpoint and monologues; and by this I mean he actually says these words: “Now before I kill you both, I’m going to tell you my plans for the human race.” It’s borderline parody – it sounds like the kind of thing a comedic villain would say to get a laugh, but the scene is both written and performed with absolute sincerity. He rambles on and on, giving the police time to come in and kill him before he can do any more harm while trying to play God.
“Doctor G is ‘God – why do you think I’m called Doctor G?”
In the end, this 66 minute movie (yes, it’s barely over an hour) finishes abruptly without much denouement. Fans of Nguyen with a keen eye will be sure to recognize recurring landmarks, buildings, locations, and cast members in this film. Natalie’s mother from Birdemic makes a brief appearance, and of course archive footage of Tippi Hedren shows up on a television screen. Even Doctor G himself would go on to play the doctor on the bridge in Birdemic (“These birds are dead from the bird flu virus!”). Say what you will about James Nguyen and the quality of his productions, he certainly inspires trust and loyalty in the people he works with, so he must be doing something right….