MovieMantz Review: ‘Surrogates’

“Doomsday Machines”

Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike
Directed by Jonathan Mostow

“Surrogates” wants to be a big movie with big ideas, but most of them have been explored before in recent (and not-so-recent) years. As we become more consumed with technology and less reliant on interpersonal contact, it’s certainly a relevant and somewhat plausible cautionary tale. But despite boasting impressive special effects that defy its relatively modest $80 million budget, “Surrogates” comes up short as an emotionally engaging action adventure. At least the running time is pretty short too (only 88 minutes).

That’s too bad, given the level of talent involved. Jonathan Mostow may not be the most prolific director working in Hollywood, but he’s definitely one of the most consistent – 1997’s “Breakdown,” 2000’s “U-571” and 2003’s “Terminator: Rise of the Machines” were all very entertaining movies. And after four “Die Hard” flicks, “Surrogates” features Bruce Willis in the kind of role that moviegoers like to see him in: the flawed anti-hero.

In the not too distant future, isolated people live out their lives through remote-controlled and synthetically manufactured surrogates – robotic manifestations of their own bodies that are perfect in every physical way. They’re also devoid of emotion, which is why violent crime has been virtually eliminated. But when the first murder in years rocks this utopian society, a weathered FBI Agent (Bruce Willis) must venture out into the real world, where he uncovers a conspiracy that threatens to destroy the entire surrogate foundation.

The prospect of technology getting the best of humanity has been the subject of sci-fi for as long as the genre existed, but never better than in classics like 1982’s “Blade Runner,” 1984’s “The Terminator” and TV’s recent remake of “Battlestar Galactica.” More recent films, like 2001’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” and 2004’s “I, Robot,” also broached the subject with cerebral and entertaining results, but now that real technology has caught up to some of the ideas explored in these movies, the timing is perfect for “Surrogates.”

But the same cannot be said about the execution. Despite the presence of a few well-staged action scenes, the robotic surrogates go about their business in the most monotone way possible. That low energy hurts the movie, while a lack of character development and a convoluted screenplay (which is based on the graphic novel of the same name) add salt to the wound. There are a few decent surprises toward the end, when it becomes a race against time, but by then (thankfully), it’s pretty much over.

The closet thing “Surrogates” has to a saving grace, and it’s still not enough to save the movie, is the presence of Ving Rhames as a prophet who defies the surrogate-using culture. It’s been 15 years since Rhames last co-starred with Willis, which makes this something of a “Pulp Fiction” reunion. But their scenes together are brief, while Radha Mitchell and Rosamund Pike do the best they can as Willis’ partner and wife respectively. There are some big ideas here, but “Surrogates” is far from being a big movie.


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