Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jonathan Mostow

Cast: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, Jack Noseworthy, Ving Rhames, James Francis Ginty, James Cromwell

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and a drug-related scene)

Running Time: 1:28

Release Date: 9/25/09

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Review by Mark Dujsik

The world of Surrogates is barebones, only examined far enough to get the plot from point A to point B. It's a shame, really, as the world Surrogates creates is fascinating on a conceptual level.

In the near future of the movie, the large majority of the population use the eyes and bodies of robotic puppets called "surrogates" to see and experience life instead of their own. These surrogates move like ordinary folks (obviously a bit more mechanized) and can even do some extraordinary things, like survive long drops and bad accidents, make high jumps, and operate functionally without certain limbs and after what would be human-disabling attacks.

The script takes the movie's technology for granted, which is perfectly fine and expected, but it makes no effort to explore the implications of the technology beyond a simple, black-and-white conflict between the haves and have-nots. Although even that conflict is better seen as the wants and want-nots.

While about 90 percent of the world's population use these surrogates in their everyday lives, the other ten don't care for the idea too much, going so far as to live outside of the majority on reservations where signs boasting/warning "Humans only" stand by the entrance. This is stated as a moral choice for these people, although, considering the equipment at hand and the shabby conditions of these reservations, one has to wonder if class is involved at all.

The movie doesn't address this issue, but it doesn't address a lot of implied or hinted issues. Michael Ferris and John Brancato's script (based on a graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele) isn't here to penetrate; it simply states the most clear-cut expository it can muster.

To do so, we're presented with lots exposition. The movie starts with an extended montage of news clips and sound bites showing the progress of science that led to surrogates and the rift between humans and surrogate-users.

We also later get a split within the company (Virtual Self Industries) that pioneered the machines and a conspiracy involving the company, the FBI, the company's former owner (little more than a cameo by James Cromwell), and the leader of the human revolution (a dreadlocked Ving Rhames in an almost-constant, amusing meditation pose) involving a weapon that destroys the surrogate and liquefies the brain of the operator.

There's also our hero Greer (Bruce Willis), an FBI agent who loses his surrogate, enters the world "in the flesh," uncovers the conspiracy, and tries to bring his wife (Rosamund Pike) out of the emotional trauma of losing their son. His partner Peters (Radha Mitchell) is involved as well and later becomes the unknowing tool of the conspiracy. Or at least her surrogate does. I mean, given the circumstances, she can't become involved, but no one knows that. Whatever.

There's a lot of surrogate swapping and double-crosses that come quickly without much explanation, leading the movie to appear more complex plot-wise than it actually is. The whole affair is surprisingly dialogue-heavy, in spite of the fact it has nothing meaningful to say.

The movie is directed by Jonathan Mostow, a capable thriller director, but he's given very little to do here. There are pauses in the expository dialogue on occasion for chase sequences. One takes Greer's surrogate through the human reservation after a helicopter crash, leaping across piled-up trailers. Another features Peters surrogate leaping on top of cars, buses, and generally running and jumping fast.

They're fine and a nice break from the tedium of the plot, and the set up for the second chase is nicely timed (calling in assistance for an accident that hasn't happened yet). There's very little any director could do with the movie's climax, which involves typing on a keyboard and staring at a timer ticking down.

Willis is strong as usual in this everyday hero type again, and it's a credit to his abilities as an actor that he lends some credence to the overall scenario and some real emotion to the scenes with the wife.

Ultimately, Surrogates is a movie that demands more out of its premise, but instead of pushing and prodding the issue, it's content to just move the plot along. We watch, wishing for much more.

Copyright 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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