(Long Island, NY) I’m tired, and honestly, not very much in the mood to be writing at the moment. But I feel I owe it to you, my loyal readers, to persevere and deliver yet another one of my engrossing movie reviews. Such is my dedication to this wonderful website known as Long Island Exchange. Despite my fatigue, I’ll do my best to make sure my writing this week is up to my usual standards (take that as you will).
So…today we’ll be dissecting the new Bruce Willis film, Surrogates, directed by Jonathan Mostow (of Terminator 3 fame). It’s a science fiction movie based on a 2005 comic book series (which I was initially unaware of…I might have to track it down) that takes place in the year 2017. The idea behind Surrogates is interesting…you know how a lot of people nowadays are obsessed with the internet and living through their online personas? Well, in the future, imagine being able to lie back in the safety of your home and remotely control a stronger, faster, better-looking robotic version of yourself (known as a “Surrogate”)? Sound more fun than World of Warcraft or The Sims? Well, in Surrogates, the vast majority of human beings worldwide are living out their lives in that very way, thanks to new technology invented by a reclusive scientist named Dr. Lionel Canter (James Cromwell).
Despite the fact that Dr. Canter originally invented the Surrogates as a means for disabled people to regain their mobility, the social use of Surrogates by the general public eventually becomes all the rage. While turtled up in their apartments and houses, your average Joe or Jane can work their jobs, go out on the town, make whoopee with total strangers, take death-defying leaps onto dance floors, and all without risk. You see, since any damage sustained by a Surrogate never carries over to its user, their actions have no consequences in real life (lucky stiffs!). The world becomes a safe yet sterile and cold place, free of crime or fear.
That is, until the first murder in years is committed. The victim? Jarod, the college-age son of Dr. Canter who was inhabiting the body of a Surrogate at the time. The young man was done in by an unknown assailant wielding a new weapon capable of not only destroying a user’s robotic doppelganger, but it’s user as well. The FBI dispatches Agent Tom Greer (played by Willis) and his partner Agent Jennifer Peters (Radha Mitchell) to investigate these shenanigans. Using his own Surrogate, Greer looks into the mystery surrounding Dr. Canter, the company he founded and was subsequently forced out of, and an anti-Surrogate community lead by a big dreadlocked guy known as The Prophet (Ving Rhames).
Compounding the case is the fact that Dr. Canter’s son just so happened to be using one of dad’s deluxe Surrogates at the time of his death, leading to the speculation that the target was actually the scientist himself.
Despite the distraction of Greer’s problems at home- his son previously died in a car crash and his depressed wife prefers interacting with him only though her Surrogate (considering that she’s pretty beat-up looking in real life, maybe that’s a plus)- the veteran agent pushes on with the investigation, until an encounter with the killer and his weapon (resembling a Star Trek phaser) disables his Surrogate. Having to literally take matters into his own hands, Greer, much older and more follically-challanged than his youthful Surrogate would suggest, physically ventures outside of his apartment for the first time in years. Adjusting to the unease and anxiety of life unplugged from his mechanized stand-in, Greer continues his probe into the case, and soon discovers a plot that could cost millions their lives. But can a mere human like Greer survive when faced with robotic enemies more than his physical match?
Okay, I’ve made it this far through the review. I took a short break, watched some Law and Order: SVU, and had a protein drink. I feel a bit refreshed, ready to push on, finish my review, and hit the hay. Onward.
Surrogates is a pretty solid film, but one that has the odd distinction of sharing exact, major plot elements with another recently-released sci-fi movie…in this case Gamer (which I also reviewed). In Gamer, humans also enjoyed shutting themselves indoors in their underwear while controlling outside avatars to live out their fantasy lives, although in this case they were human volunteers and not robots. Still, it’s strange coincidence, but not one that harms either film, as they each have totally different vibes. Surrogates is more of a gritty, futuristic detective story, while Gamer was just goofy and stupid. While not perfect, Surrogates is clearly the better of the two. It has better story, character, and tension, and I found it fairly engaging from start to finish.
The main attraction of Surrogates is Bruce Willis, who conveys a gruff, angry, yet emotionally burdened sensibility in his role. He remains the ultimate everyman in his performances, dishing out as much as he takes, and this helps the audience buy into his character and see things from his perspective. Radha Mitchell continues to add to her sci-fi resume (Pitch Black is a favorite of mine), and the Aussie actress proves yet again that she is quite talented at her craft. I’d comment on James Cromwell and Ving Rhames, but neither is given much to do in this movie- you only see them occasionally. Cromwell’s character actually does most of his emoting through the other actors that play his various Surrogates, which is a shame because I’ve always found him personally to be very entertaining.
Starting to get tired again, but I’m gonna make it…
I think one of the main attention-getters of Surrogates are the interesting ways the special effects are utilized. Since the Surrogates themselves appear almost completely human, the CG is used sparingly, and only to give them a slightly “plastic” look. It’s subtle, but effective. And while the de-aging done on Bruce Willis’ Surrogate is pretty impressive, I have to admit that I found it pretty disturbing at times. Remember how Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were de-aged via the miracle of CG in X-Men 3? Or how they pasted Arnold’s 1984 mug onto Roland Kickinger’s body in Terminator Salvation? Now picture that done with Bruce, complete with a full head of blond hair and a nice saran-wrap sheen to his skin. It was just weird. And I’ve mentioned before in this column the implications of this kind of technology…we could really end up raising long-gone actors from the dead for new movies! Just get a stand-in and map John Wayne’s face onto ’em…BAM! The Duke’s alive again, for all intents and purposes. Personally, I don’t know how I feel about that. One hand it’s exciting, but on the other…it’s just plain morbid, and perhaps even disrespectful.
Time for the wrap up…
So, Surrogates. Yeah. It’s good. And I’m tired. But I found the energy to write this review, and that’s not something I could have done with a movie that just plain sucked. Unless it was horrible to the degree that it sapped my will to live (in which case I would have found the energy to exact my revenge somehow), writing a review for a run-of-the-mill bad movie would have had me asleep by the second paragraph. But Surrogates was decent enough that it made me want to tell you about it. It does have some problems (the Surrogate tech developing from scratch to the point seen in the movie in a mere 13 years seemed a bit silly), and it isn’t totally original (how many other movies have we seen where people “plug-in” to virtual reality?), but it does execute its plot well and it contains a few twists and turns that actually kept you guessing. Feel free to give it a whirl.
Good night readers, and pleasant dreams. Zzzzz….