STARRING: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell,
Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Francis Ginty, Michael Cudlitz with James
Cromwell, Ving Rhames
2009, 104 Minutes, Directed by:
Jonathan Mostow has never offended me as a filmgoer. His pictures have been
routinely well constructed and visually interesting (Terminator
3, U-571, Breakdown), even in the face of underwhelming plots
and misguided performances.
undoubtedly a misfire for the filmmaker, but it’s an interesting failure,
peppered with a few memorable sequences and an appropriate, timely message
highlighting the acceleration of social disconnect. While ambitious, the rhythm
is off on this limping picture, with the fingerprints of severe studio
interference smudging up the movie from the start.
In the future, society will
employ the use of Surrogates, robotic avatars that are sent out into the word to
conduct daily business. They are the ideal version of the user, with smooth
looks and near indestructibility. When an important Surrogate is killed with a
special military weapon, F.B.I. Agent Greer (Bruce Willis) is sent in to
investigate. Finding the trail of clues leading to a community of human beings
who choose to live life with their own flesh and blood, overseen by the
influential Prophet (Ving Rhames), Agent Greer enters their forbidden city, only
to watch his Surrogate destroyed. Now without his buffer to the outside world,
Agent Greer is forced to interact with a menacing Surrogate population,
including his estranged wife, Maggie (Rosamund Pike).
Adapted from the 2006 graphic
novel, The Surrogates, the feature film realization preserves a
distinctly illustrated quality to the material, keeping a tone of page-turning
mystery and flashy sci-fi discovery. It’s a handsome picture, photographed
sharply and brimming with curious fantasy touches sold well by the numerous
special effects, with the centerpiece being the network of Surrogates.
"Bruce Willis looks a little bored at times . . ."
Chillingly dead-eyed machines with vivid features and silky skin, the Surrogates
generate the tension and mystery of the piece, and Mostow juggles the balance
between robotic advancement and emotional distance soundly, laying on the
technological detachment theme thick, but effectively. When all is lost in the
film (and it unravels eventually), the design and execution of the Surrogate
figures remain visually stimulating to the end.
The secret weapon capable of
slaughtering Surrogates is the major question mark of the film, but the mystery
surrounding the gun and its various owners is never messaged hard enough to
reach critical mass. Instead the feature jumps from turn to turn, suggesting
that Surrogates was trimmed heavily on its way to the multiplex. While filled
with colorful characters with plenty on their minds, the story has been pared
down to the bare essentials of action and whodunit.
There’s not much room to
breathe here, highlighted uncomfortably in the relationship between Greer and
Maggie. A married couple unable to cope with the tragic loss of their young son,
the pair has taken to Surrogacy to numb the pain. It’s a plotline that appears
integral to the overall story, but all that’s left in Surrogates are
melodramatic fragments that are poorly finessed into the film, again suggesting
cold studio hands restructured the plot without Mostow’s cooperation, leaving
turbulent waves of emotion behind, absent the necessary, gentle context.
Bruce Willis looks a little
bored here at times and is miscast as the baffled hero. Thankfully he’s
surrounded by a fine supporting cast (including Radha Mitchell and Buzz from
Home Alone himself, Devin Ratray, here as a slob F.B.I. tech wizard) who seem to
be enjoying the Surrogate fantasy and future-world trimmings. Surrogates is
short (85 minutes) and fails to land a killing blow that pays off the simplified
mystery with any distinct urgency. It’s a flawed film, but far from unbearable.
Nothing a DVD director’s cut couldn’t fix.
- Brian Orndorf