Surrogates marks a welcome return to the science fiction for Bruce Willis, a genre that has been kind to him over the years most notably in Twelve Monkeys. Directed by Jonathan Mostow and based off a series of comic books created by Robert Venditti the film opens with a sleek, thought provoking montage that outshines everything that comes after it. The year is 2017 and the people, still down on the idea of growing fat, old and ugly, now stay and home and live their daily lives through robots, or surrogates, that look just like regular people only with less flaws.
This also allows them to "live life without any risk or danger" as the in movie ads for these surrogates proudly proclaim. That may not sound like a hot idea to you but to this fictional society it’s all the rage as nearly every human on Earth owns one. Things stop being entirely peachy when a new weapon arrives that has the power to simultaneously destroy the physical surrogate and melt the brains of the operator. Enter policeman Tom Greer (Willis) and his partner Peters (Radha Mitchell) whose investigation of the case leads them through an underworld of anti-surrogate separatists and the upper reaches of the corporation that manufactures the surrogates owned by Dr. Canter (James Cromwell). From there everything plays out like a basic TV police procedural, call it CSI: The Future, with a dated sci-fi flick providing the backdrop.
Very quickly the script turns into a convoluted mess that is desperately in need of three to four more runs through the edit suite. After a gunfight with the separatists and their leader The Prophet (Ving Rhames), Tom finds himself with neither a surrogate (destroyed) nor a police badge (suspended). But since this is a movie he will not be deterred and hits the streets as his own flesh and blood self – suffering massive culture shock in the process- and continues on with the case. He also has a strained marriage at home to deal with. His wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike) is all consumed with her insecurity and new partying life style and can no longer connect with him.
Suspicion quickly and obviously falls upon Dr. Canter, but to solve the crime Tom will have to battle Canter’s ability to commandeer other people’s surrogates and the labyrinth that is his mansion. The plot occasionally plays rough with its audience but never really asks anything of them. There are a few pleasant twists and turns but that alone hardly justifies the amount of time it takes to watch this movie. Along the way you will have to endure special effects that look distinctly like costumed actors walking in front of a blue screen and a ticking clock plot device that’s as limp as Willis’ hairpiece.
Most damaging to this film is its shockingly brisk runtime. Mostow is certainly punching above his weight in terms of the number of ideas he is trying to cram into this little movie (Ridley Scott he ain’t) but it is unclear whether the failure to properly explore those ideas should be attributed to lack of time or lack of brainpower, or both. The notion of us as a society no longer living our lives and instead sat home all day playing an elaborate video game is a fascinating one and perhaps had the movie been twice as long we might have had a better idea of its wider ramifications. Unfortunately in the world that we live in three hour movies clog up the multiplexes and are thus bad for business, so we are stuck listening to Mostow’s half-baked theories (everybody would have really hot looking surrogates). He does call us out on the way that we are hardwired to the Internet and in the tank for plastic surgery but his solution to these problems, captured in his final scene, is hokey to the extreme. You probably won’t feel cheated walking out of the theatre but only because you’ll probably be numb with indifference.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Runtime: 89 minutes
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures