Upon leafing through the press notes of Surrogates, I was not surprised to see it was based on a graphic novel. The shock set in when I realized the date in which it was written – 2006. Really?
Though the themes that are dealt with are certainly timely, the overall use of technology in “the future” seems so… 1980s.
Set the presumably not-too-distant future, Surrogates envisions a world in which mechanical alter-egos have gone from completing minor tasks and duties for mankind, to being a stand-in for our everyday activities. Though these 'bots are no mere duplications, rather they are lifelike avatars, free of wrinkles, pimples or cellulite, and possessing superhuman agility and a rather disturbing waxy finish.
Bruce Willis stars as FBI Agent Greer, on the case of surrogate slaughter, when a few androids have been fried by a special laser that actually toasts the hosts who are controlling them from the comfort of their Barcaloungers.
The case brings the jaded agent out of the comfort of his second skin and into the world of these replicants where he must not only re-acclimate himself, but must also face the creator of these robotic representations (played by James Cromwell). But even as the film unfolds like a pulpy detective tale, there are one too many stumbling blocks that keeps Surrogates feeling as false as the paranoid androids that make up the film's populace.
There are the little things that may serve to pick the nits of techno-nerds such as myself, like the fact that science has developed the technology to give humans completely lifelike robotic duplicates, (albeit stronger and sexier), and yet we are still using flip-open cell phones? And keyboards with a mouse? And you are going to tell me that Willis' character had the opportunity to recreate himself however he wanted, and he decided on hair that looks like a tidal wave of peroxide cresting on his forehead? Perhaps these are minor gripes, but for a technology-dominated future, these little tics add up to make the film feel as advanced as a Commodore 64.
But perhaps more distracting is the film's inability to answer some of the larger questions it flirts with bringing up, such as: just what the hell is that surrogate-scrambling gun? And exactly what was the role of The Prophet (played by Ving Rhames), an apparent leader of the human resistance who has all of about three scenes in the entire film totaling about 10 minutes?
Equally as frustrating is the abandoned subplot of Greer and his estranged wife who entered the world of surrogates to escape the pain of losing a child. It's an interesting angle to examine the root of why so many resort to recreating themselves in an alternate reality. And the fact that the film was directed by Jonathan Mostow, who so successfully mined the personal connection of couples in his debut, Breakdown, makes it all the more maddening that the film failed to explore the anguish of its human characters.
I’m a sucker for futuristic fantasy films that explore our social disconnect running conversely to our reliance on technology, from the modern standard-bearers of Blade Runner, Paprika, The Matrix and, now, Wall*E, to Kathryn Bigelow’s sadly overlooked 1995 picture Strange Days, (of which this is vaguely reminiscent), and even curious misfires such as EXistenZ, and Lawnmower Man.
But Surrogates fails to register a spot on the list as it is, for it feels like a copy-and-paste job of these other films that adds nothing new to the discussion. For all its digital-based prognostications, it's frustratingly analog.