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Causes Noble and Lost

Replicas and On the Basis of Sex

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REPLICAS. It's been awhile since I've done this so I hope I can be forgiven for a degree of indelicacy, as the muscles may have atrophied: This movie sucks. And not in a guilty-pleasure way or in a so-bad-it's-good way, or even as the basis of a drinking game. Rather, it consists of a wafer-thin premise barely fleshed out, acted by maybe the exact wrong cast and executed without any pretense of art or storytelling. (I conceived of a best-case scenario while watching it, wherein the movie became a thinly veiled humanitarian effort to bring some production dollars to Puerto Rico, where it was at least partially filmed.)

Will Foster (Keanu Reeves) heads a questionably funded team of biologists and other, less easily described science types bent on reclaiming the personalities of recently dead soldiers and implanting them into robots. As the movie opens, things aren't going that well. The most recent test subject awakens in his new cybernetic body, achieves consciousness and rips off his own robot face. Somehow nobody understands why he doesn't greet reanimation inside a synthetic prison with a more positive attitude. Anyway, Foster's boss Mr. Jones (John Ortiz) is on his case about the low success rate of the trials, demanding tangible, repeatable outcomes; Foster broods and smolders. But only for so long, as he has a family vacation planned. So he and his implausibly named wife Mona (Alice Eve) load the kids into the minivan to go fishing. But a nasty storm wells up and Will crashes the minivan, killing everyone except himself. (I guess the spoiler alert should have come earlier but really what am I spoiling?) So, as one does, he calls his right-hand mad scientist Ed (Thomas Middleditch) and tells him to bring all the gear over to the house. (See, Ed is perhaps the world's foremost cloning expert). While Will extracts his family's personalities from their still-warm corpses, Ed sets up the cloning pods. Bad news though: Ed could only steal three pods, so Will has long. dark several minutes of the soul deciding which family member to leave dead. And, of course, he then has to erase said family member from the memories of the others. (This is obviously problematic but if I start picking this thing apart we'll never get out of here.) Oh, and he forces Ed to dispose of the bodies. Because, you know, hierarchy.

Will abandons his job, for all intents and purposes, while he re-grows his family in the basement. He neglects to call his kids' school, or the hospital where Mona is a prominent doctor, but really how could he be expected to account for such things? He's only one of the world's preeminent scientific minds, after all.

The experiment mostly works but then it comes to light that Will's employer might not be the nebulous "medical-research" group he imagined it to be. Mr. Jones, as he ominously intones, isn't even his real name! Sinister business is afoot! Cue the dramatic music (except Replicas can't even muster dramatic music).

By the end, the whole thing lays on the screen like, as my friend intoned, "wet garbage." Reeves, Middleditch and Ortiz all deserve better than this, and at least one of them should have known better/probably didn't need the money. It's science fiction without the science and with precious little attention paid to the fiction. I'd estimate the actual stuff of the story at about 20 minutes worth. Even the mercifully short-by-contemporary-standards running time of 107 minutes feels like a season. PG13. 107M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

ON THE BASIS OF SEX. Director Mimi Leder broke through about 20 years ago with a pair of high-profile action pictures: The Peacemaker (1997) and Deep Impact (1998). Since then she seems to have enjoyed a successful career in television until the silver screen called her back with this, a sort of TV movie-scaled biopic-light about Ruth Bader Ginsberg with a very good cast.

We meet RBG (Felicity Jones) as she matriculates at Harvard Law School. She's married to the funny and charming Martin Ginsberg (Armie Hammer), also a Harvard lawyer in training. When Martin contracts testicular cancer, Ruth takes it upon herself to not only care for him and their young daughter, but to attend his classes in addition to her own. It's a testament to her intelligence and determination, not least because she is constantly confronted by the chauvinistic, atavistic (read: stupid and evil) attitudes of her professors, fellow students, educational institution and the world at large.

Moving forward a few years, Martin is well placed at a private firm in Manhattan. Ruth can't find work as a practicing attorney because, well, the world was and is often a cesspool. So she teaches at Rutgers University, stifling her frustration that the world has stymied her impulse to change it. But then she comes across a Constitutional law case out of Colorado wherein she sees an opportunity. She and Martin take it on with the backing of the ACLU and the rest is history. Sort of.

On the Basis of Sex is well acted and put together proficiently enough, but it left me wanting something more dynamic, more radical. Especially now, with the end times looming, Ruth Bader Ginsberg is an embattled and, dare I say it, radical figure. I think a movie about her would ideally be less conventional but this still makes for a good history lesson. PG13. 120M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

—John J. Bennett

See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

Previews

THE FAVOURITE. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone play rivals for the attention and attending power of England's Queen Ann (Olivia Colman). R. 119M. BROADWAY, MINOR.

GLASS. Director M. Night Shyamalan brings characters from Split (James McAvoy) and Unbreakable (Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis) together to complete the dark superhero set. PG13. 129M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. Kiki Layne, Stephan James and Regina King star in Barry Jenkins' adaptation of the James Baldwin novel. R. 119M. MINOR.

HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004). The one where his dog godfather breaks out of the joint. Relatable. G. 238M. BROADWAY.

Continuing

AQUAMAN. James Wan directs the butched-up ocean superhero's (Jason Momoa) solo feature with Amber Heard and an army of CG sea creatures. PG13. 143M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

BUMBLEBEE. Transformers spinoff starring Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena. PG13. 113M. BROADWAY.

BURNING. A young man (Ah-In Yoo) is tangled up with a missing woman (Jong-seu Jun) and a rich, mysterious firebug (Steven Yeun) in this beautiful, austere Korean drama adapted from an equally strange Haruki Murakami story. NR. 148M. MINIPLEX.

A DOG'S WAY HOME. Live action drama in which a lost dog (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard) searches for her owner cross country. Starring Ashley Judd. PG. 96M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

ESCAPE ROOM. A handful of strangers use their wits to make it out of a deadly series of high-tech immersive puzzles. Starring Taylor Russell and Deborah Ann Woll. PG13. 100M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.

GREEN BOOK. The set-up of a racist white man driving a black concert pianist around the South in the '60s is cringeworthy but Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali give immersive, deeply-felt performances in director Peter Farrelly's surprisingly restrained film. PG13. 130M. BROADWAY.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS. The original super nanny (Emily Blunt) takes on the children of her former charges. With Lin-Manuel Miranda and a freakishly spry Dick Van Dyke. PG. 130M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE MULE. Clint Eastwood's storytelling is as controlled as his performance as an aging, failed father smuggling drugs for a cartel as the DEA closes in. With Bradley Cooper and Michael Peña. R. 116M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET. More video game hijinks voiced by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman. PG. 112M. BROADWAY.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. Inter-dimensional spider heroes team up in an animated adventure. Starring Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson and Hailee Steinfeld. PG. 117M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE UPSIDE. An inexperienced parolee (Kevin Hart) becomes an assistant to a wealthy man with quadriplegia (Bryan Cranston). With Nicole Kidman. PG13. 125M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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