Here is an A-list type film with B-list execution that wants you to think it is an A-list type film while never actually moving past the B-list. Does that make sense? Sure it does. Basically, it is a big time film that never pays off on the potential, content to reside in the world of Whiz Bang rather than deal with any of the headier issues raised by the concept. Do not get me wrong, Surrogates proved to be an entertaining action film — just stay with the action and do not over-think anything. Yes, that does mean you are giving it a pass, but sometimes that is all right, not everything needs to be high art. Still, the potential that this did not deliver on is staggering.
Even before going in, I knew I was going to have a problem with it. Actually, that is not entirely true, I was hoping that the issue I had with the trailer would be cleared up in the film. It wasn't, it was still there and it brought friends.
Surrogates is set in the future where lifelike robot technology has nearly been perfected. To go along with it is the technology to remotely control said robots. Initially developed for use by the disabled, to allow them to live a fuller life, the tech was quickly adapted by everyone to use instead of their real bodies to do their everyday work. The result is a society where crime and racism has all but disappeared — everyone just stays at home in their chairs while their "surries" go out into the world. All right, do you see the problem here? Of course you do. Unfortunately, the film does not look into those issues; instead, the focus is a murder mystery.
The film opens with clips and narration describing how the surrogates came to be, setting up some of the socio-political climate. We learn of government policy, technological advancement, and the rise of an anti-surrogate movement and the cordoned off land where these people live, completely separated from the surrogate using world around them. These people are led by a man who calls himself the Prophet (Ving Rhames in a big beard and dreads).
Once the background has been set up, we pick things up with a 20-something surrogate in a limousine. He pulls up to a club, goes inside, jumps into an oddly moving dance floor before pairing up with a blonde woman and ending up in the alleyway. A man on a motorcycle pulls up, zaps the couples, and takes off. There you have it, the first murder in forever.
It is now time to welcome our troubled hero, FBI Agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis), and his partner, Agent Peters (Radha Mitchell). They begin to investigate the murder. It turns out the victim is the son of Dr. Canter (James Cromwell), the inventor of surrogate robots. He is also no longer associated with his company, he became disillusioned with their direction and has become anti-surrogate.
Instead of what could have been an interesting dissection of what makes the individual and the implications that all of these robots bring with them, the movie settles into pretty standard fare. We get chases, last minute rescues, shootouts, car chases, and some old fashioned fisticuffs as we build towards out inevitable conclusion. We get the big reveal of the bad guy, learn about our heroes baggage, and not once do I really care about any of it.
Before I went in, I stood in line to get my popcorn and soda. I chatted for a moment with the clerk and he said the trailer reminded him of I, Robot. It was a comparison that I had not previously seen, but now with that idea in my head, I could not shake it. The movie really does bear an amazing similarity to the Will Smith flick. Both of them deal with new technology, the misuse and mistrust of it, a murder mystery, a mysterious inventor, and both devolve into a series of action sequences rather than deal with any of it in any great manner.
Jonathan Mostow directed the film, his first feature film since Terminator 3. He proves once again that he can direct good action. What I am not convinced is if he can helm a film with more than surface intelligence. That probably has more to do with the writers who, in this case, seem to shy away from the thought provoking side of the coin. In this case, the writers are John Brancato and Michael D. Ferris working from a graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele.
I did like how they handled the surrogates, mostly. I liked the creepy, waxy look that they had, real but not quite, coupled with their slightly wooden movements. However, when they spoke, it was like the users lost a good portion of their intelligence, or that could just be a bad screenplay. It was weird, some of the supposedly intelligent users sounded rather dumb when speaking through their robot bodies. I liked the electro-drug that they used. It made sense that some new sort of thrill would emerge to use on the new bodies.
Such potential. It is a shame.
Bottom line. Sure, it is kind of fun but I would have liked so much more. I would love to give it a pass, but I also think it needs to be called out for its adherence to formula. If you want some dumb action, this is for you. If you want more, well, this is not for you.