Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Produced by Max Handelman and Elizabeth Banks
Screenplay by John Brancanto and Michael Ferris
So we’re on our way to the theater to catch an early evening showing of SURROGATES and my wife Patricia mentions that the few reviews she’s heard or read about the movie aren’t particularly flattering. I smugly reply that Bruce Willis has had a pretty good track record with science fiction movies. Even though I didn’t like “Armageddon” it was a huge box office hit. “Twelve Monkeys” and the incredibly entertaining “The Fifth Element” I liked a whole lot more and based on those two movies I figured that SURROGATES would be a pretty good movie. Haw. Serves me right for being smug.
In the year 2017 human beings spend most of their time in their homes or apartments, isolated from each other. They interact through their Surrogates. Surrogates are incredibly sophisticated androids that enable their human operators to experience life without having to really live life. Thanks to a device called a ‘Stim chair’ human consciousness can inhabit their Surrogates. The androids can hear, taste, and feel just like their human operators but with the added benefit that the Surrogates can be made to look any way their human operators want. And Surrogates are practically indestructible. And if that’s not enough, due to some sort of sensory fail safe built into them, pain cannot be transmitted back to the human operator.
But apparently somebody has built a weapon that is capable of not only destroying Surrogates but the feedback from the Surrogate’s destruction is transmitted back to its human operator who also dies. The FBI is called in to investigate as a news blackout is placed on this information. FBI Special Agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell) are assigned to the case. Their investigation leads them to Dr. Lionel Cantor (James Cromwell) the creator of Surrogate technology and soon Greer and Peters believe that somebody is trying to kill Cantor. Cantor has been in hiding for years and nobody knows where he is. Greer figures that whoever wants Cantor dead developed the weapon to kill Cantor’s Surrogate and thereby kill Cantor.
Good plan except for one hiccup: Cantor has dozens of Surrogates and rarely uses the same one twice in a row. So you never know which Surrogate he’s going to use next.
Greer’s chief suspect is The Prophet (Ving Rhames) the leader of a movement called The Dreads who eschew any and all Surrogate technology and keep to themselves on careful guarded reservations where everybody is carefully checked before entering to make sure they aren’t a Surrogate.
The investigation gets even more complicated when Greer’s Surrogate is destroyed while chasing a suspect. In order to continue his investigation, the human Greer has to come out of his apartment and actually interact with others (one character, upon seeing the human Greer says in disgust: “what are you doing here in the flesh?”) while fighting off panic attacks that stem from actually experiencing emotions and sensations first hand instead of through his Surrogate.
Now when I lay it out like that it sounds like a pretty good science fiction/murder mystery, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. I give SURROGATES major props for not trying to be a glitzy, big-budget action thriller disguised as science fiction but I think it tries too hard. Its concern is Saying Something Meaningful About The Human Condition instead of telling a story.
The subplot about the human Greer trying to reconnect with his wife after his Surrogate is destroyed is a good one. Greer and his wife have suffered a major tragedy in their lives and both submerged themselves in their Surrogate lives to deal with it but once he’s out in the world, Greer wants his real wife to share it with him. It’s a poignant theme but unfortunately the movie stops dead in its tracks as Greer abruptly breaks off his investigation time and again to suddenly go have these rambling heart-to-heart talks with his wife, who simply turns off her Surrogate so she doesn’t have to listen to him. And since this isn’t a long movie, those conversations burn up valuable time.
The murder mystery itself really isn’t all that interesting and given the lack of suspects I think you’ll be able to spot who’s behind it pretty quickly. The performances by Bruce Willis, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames, Radha Mitchell and Boris Kodjoe are as flat and devoid of dimension as a slice of Wonder Bread. That could be an artistic decision on the part of the actors as they are supposed to be playing androids for most of the movie but even when Willis is the human Greer he seems tired and bored.
The look of the movie is adequate with nice but not outstanding special effects. Unless you count the one used to make Bruce Willis look twenty years younger when he plays Greer’s Surrogate. It’s the same digital de-aging that was used on Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan in “X-Men: The Last Stand” and it’s shockingly good. Greer’s Surrogate is remarkably young and handsome with a head full of blond hair and it’s really a shock when we see the human Greer.
That’s one of my disappointments with SURROGATES as we only see superficially how such an incredible technological advancement would really impact on society. There’s one scene where we find out who the human operator of a gorgeous blonde bombshell is and when we do it’s really a surprise. And it gives thought to how much male/female relationships as well as racial and gender identity would have to be redefined. But SURROGATES doesn’t go into all that. It’s all about the premise but it really doesn’t do much with it.
So should you see SURROGATES? Unless you’re a die hard Bruce Willis fan who just has to see his movies on the big screen I’d advise you to wait on the DVD for this one.