14
Oct
09

Movie Review: Surrogates

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It’s an eminence front

Starring Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Ving Rhames, Rosamund Pike, James Cromwell. Directed by Jonathan Mostow. Based on the graphic novels by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele

NOTE: I have never read the graphic novels.

I never thought I would be saying this, but this movie needed to be 30 minutes longer.

Bruce Willis plays Tom Greer, a cop in the future. What is the future you ask? Surrogates. Paraplegic scientist Canter (Cromwell) invents a robot that enables those who are disabled to be normal. Per se, a disabled person can sit in a chair and plug into a “Surrogate” which gives them the ability to experience life as any normal walking, talking person can. Over a period of time the Surrogates become more advanced gaining the ability to “look” like the person who is controlling/plugged into the surrogate. VSI, a corporation for the mass production of Surrogates, is created because if the disabled can get a robot version of themselves to experience life without the hassles of aging, getting hurt, or being sick, why can’t everybody else? Soon everyone signs up for a hot, youthful, athletic robot version of themselves.

A human resistance is formed and many cities have “dread areas” where humans live but Surrogates are not allowed. One area is ran by The Prophet (Ving Rhames), who prophecizes about the coming day when humans will revolt against the Surrogates. Incidentally, Surrogate creator Canter disagreed with the idea of Surrogates for the populace and is fired and humiliated for it; he now lives in seclusion.

Back to Greer. He and his wife, Maggie (Mitchell), share an apartment but never truly see each other. After a car accident killed their only son Greer delved into his work while his wife, scarred from the wreck, decides to live through her Surrogate. The world is now became 97% Surrogates and more image-based than before (actual humans are nicknamed “meatbags”). When Canter’s son’s Surrogate is executed by a weapon that not only destroys the Surrogate but its controller as well, Greer steps into a plot that involves Canter, the Prophet, an abandoned military project and the possible death/destruction of billions of people.

2009 has inevitably became the year in which science fiction movies have returned. Maybe not the best of science fiction movies, but better than I’ve seen in a while and scores better than anything the SyFy (shudder) network can offer up on a good day. While it may not be “District 9,” or even “9,” “Surrogates” does provide some interesting ideas and tries to deliver a social message about reliance on computers and the ongoing argument of image versus substance. In a day and age in which we’re on the third incarnation of “The Sims,” or the online game “Second Life,” or even the Facebook/MySpace apps of Farrmville and YoVille, it’s easy to imagine people wanting to live vicariously through an attractive and nearly indestructible version of themselves. If you were given the opportunity to live life lying back in a chair while controlling a robotic version of yourself that could do or say anything you ever dreamed of, would you take it?

Alas, the questions and social commentary the film tries to make are brushed aside for action sequences and plot points that feel like they’re in a race for the finish. At 89 minutes, “Surrogates” feels like a sci-fi picture rushed in order to get it out and on the screen. A good chunk of characterization is sacrificed in order to keep the plot going when it doesn’t need to be. The questions regarding humanity losing itself behind a robotic facade, or what being human really means, or even how far is too far are glossed-over as if the director is too afraid to be labeled “heavy-handed” or to have his work called a “morality play.”

Speaking of direction, it could have been far worse. If Michael Bay had tackled this movie it would have been more useless than “The Island.” Mostow shows capability but not the heart for sci-fi and that’s really unfortunate because this movie could’ve been great. I liked it, but if more characterization had been thrown in it would have been good competition against “District 9.”

At best you may want to set this one on “Rental.” The premise is what sells this movie because, frankly, Bruce Willis playing a cop is about as new as James Cromwell playing a scientist. This has slightly more intelligence than “Die Hard” but less plot and characterization than “I, Robot.” It is worth checking out for robotic Californization (perfect hair, body, etc.) as well as its dark humor (“for all I know you could be a fat guy, naked in his house…”) and while I saw it matinee, I can only suggest Rental or Cable.

My grade: B

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