Director: Jonathan Mostow
Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of five)
Surrogates is a great idea executed without enough insight, intelligence or simple care to make it the movie it should be. It’s a crime thriller set in a science-fiction future ripe with possibility. The crime story itself is sloppily written, plodding through a bunch of cliches and reversals that would be entirely predictable if the writers tried harder to make them plausible. But the world, underutilized by the filmmakers, is fascinating, and, along with Bruce Willis, makes what should be a tediously boring mess into something quite watchable.
In the near future, everyone stays home and pilots humanoid robots out into the world, which means everyone on the street is pretty as Barbie and Ken dolls, including a blond, wrinkle-free Willis, who looks like he’s made of wax—which is exactly how he should look. In this world, if a robot “surrogate” is destroyed, it’s a crime of vandalism at worst, until someone starts destroying surrogates in a way that fries their human operators back at home, too.
Blah blah. As FBI agent Willis and his ridiculously Barbie-beautiful partner go through the motions of investigating the crime, we see how this world works. No one is disabled, no one is ugly. Soldiers don’t die in wars—they sit in Washington and operate one robot double in the field after another. And while we gather that there are laws and standards keeping things somewhat on the up and up, we encounter, say, an engineer who’s a tall black man, but the face on his name badge—the real engineer, back at home—is exactly the kind of nerdy white nebbish who usually gets cast as a computer engineer. And a very hot, slutty blonde turns out to be a fat guy in his underwear. It’s almost as if going out in the world with fake robots that cut us off from our essential humanity is a metaphor for the Internet, or something.
The movie comes in at 88 minutes, and you get the sense that stuff must’ve been cut. That’s probably for the best, because the script is by the guys responsible for Catwoman, so it’s not like you’d want to see any more of their work than you have to. But the result is that you’re always filled with questions, always sparked by the ideas, but then diverted from them as an increasingly nonsensical murder plot turns into a global conspiracy run by … well, everyone in the movie who’s not Bruce Willis, how’s that for economy of storytelling?
There are some good, if unsurprising, human moments when characters have to come out of their robo-chairs and confront the world in all their imperfect humanity. The cast is good, both as slightly unsettling prettybots and as real humans. What the hell Ving Rhames is doing in here is a mystery, but you just have to put up with it. Overall, you wish that Bruce Willis would pick better scripts. This film should’ve been a lot better than it is, even if the low-grade action sequences make it seem like it was done on a fairly modest budget, for this sort of thing.
I very nearly gave the film three stars because, despite its failings, it mostly goes down like a sugary, bubbly soft drink. You know it’s not good for you, but for a short time, it’s sweet and tingly on the tongue.