After the most recent, sorely misjudged installment in the once glorious Terminator franchise made his effort look like Citizen Kane by comparison, director Jonathan Mostow returned to the big screen to some sense of vindication with his first feature since 2003's much maligned T3: Rise of the Machines. Slipping right back into the real of speculative science fiction, Mostow renders Robert Venditti's comic book yarn about a future population living remote lives through the use of artificial replicas of themselves – surrogates – by way of a plodding, needlessly convoluted mystery that simply does not do justice to the rich, and intelligent subtext.

Opening with an awkward info dump, through a series of flash-forward newscasts, we learn that what started as a fad has become a dominant way of life, with surrogates, designed by Dr. Lionel Canter (James Cromwell) on behalf of global conglomerate VSI, permitting people to go about their lives free from any potential harm. In an oddly counter-intuitive plot point, this has lead to the virtual eradication of violent crime, and, save for a small group of technophobe activists (all characterized by extreme ugliness), living in shanty towns and lead by The Prophet (a dreadlocked Ving Rhames), everyone is at peace, at least physically. Then when Canter's son mysteriously dies from the effects of his damaged surrogate, targeted with a bizarre new weapon, FBI Agent Tom Greer (Willis) is forced to reenter the real world attempts to track down the killer and discover the origins of this strange new device.

While Willis as an aging, pudgy, baldy action hero, seriously hamstrung the last Die Hard movie, here his distinct lack of physicality serves the picture well. As a surrogate his plasticized features, slightly aloof demeanor, and hairpiece that would embarrass Nicolas Cage, fit perfectly in a world where people's idealized versions of themselves live on like over airbrushed, stiff-walking mannequins while their real bodies waste away in piloting chairs. Trouble is, not everyone is playing along and every once in a while someone strides into frame loose and limber – the actor almost forgetting what the gig is (the VSI spokesman, for example) – and shatters the illusion completely.

There are some neat nods of invention scattered throughout, and much in the way of social commentary on our increasingly de-personalized sense of communication and the relative anonymity of online existence. The hottest girl in the nightclub is revealed to be a bearded fat-guy, and Greer and his wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike), unable to move past the death of their infant son, share an apartment haven't actually spoken person-to-person for months. There are also digs at such things as government monitoring and interference in private life, with Greer shocked to discover how much power they actually wield over everyone's sense of control.

But the actual mechanics of the plot are simply so dull and so lifeless that they lend the accompanying social commentary all the bite of a hibernating tortoise. With the big appeal being complete invulnerability, you would expect to see people leaping off skyscrapers for kicks, or surfing atop of trains for the experience. Instead we watch these modern marvels go to their jobs, and sit around at parties "jacking" (the drug of choice for the artificially inclined). When finally the story does burst into life, in an extended chase where a high-jacked surrogate is discovered and attempts to evade capture, the sheer sense of it is so at odds with the monotony of everything that has gone before that it seems almost arbitrary. It's as if some studio suit tapped Mostow on the shoulder and reminded him that focus groups suggested they needed an action sequence at that point in the running time to pacify the demands of a particular demographic. The commentary track is somewhat enlightening in that regard, with Mostow asserting that he made a conscious decision to tone it down and not be too showy because he didn't want the screen to be littered with distractions. It's a nice sentiment, but the neat thing about distractions is that they are often able to prevent the onset of boredom.

Blu-ray Special Features:

The aforementioned feature length commentary with director Jonathan Mostow, and the music video for the track "I Will Not Bow" by Breaking Benjamin. Exclusive to Blu-ray are a selection of deleted scenes and two brief but impressive featurettes. Breaking the Frame details the genesis of the original graphic novel, which unsurprisingly was an idea born out of the current MMORPG phenomenon. A More Perfect You: The Science of Surrogates covers the current state of robotics, positing that not only is surrogate technology eminently possible, it's steadily becoming increasingly likely.

Starring: Bruce Willis, Rosamund Pike, Rhada Mitchell, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames, Jack Noseworthy, Boris Kodjoe
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Runtime: 89 Minutes
Distributor: Touchstone
Rating: PG-13

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