— by ROB COX —
Based on a graphic novel of the same name and directed by Jonathan Mostow, “Surrogates” achieves mixed results from a terrific premise.
Headlined by Bruce Willis, the film boasts solid performances with a story that offers mad scientists, military conspiracies and a global corporation bent on world domination using a product that renders people little more than sheep.
In the near future, after the creation of advanced, life-like automatons, human beings rarely venture outside their homes. Instead, using a neural interface that directly channels brain waves, the majority of the population live vicariously, hooked into custom-made, real-life avatars that are tailor-made to resemble the user. Through these avatars — called surrogates — users remotely access and interact with the world, experiencing all its sensations, including sight, sound, hearing, touch, smell and more.
Surrogates are the ultimate form of virtual reality and, best of all, have failsafes that protect the user against damage to the surrogate.
But surrogates may not be as safe as advertised.
After some brief exposition, the film opens with the killing of a surrogate by an advanced weapon that shatters the eyes and fries the CPU. Soon after, it’s revealed that the weapon also killed the user, something not previously thought possible.
FBI agent Greer (Willis) and his partner, Agent Peters (Radha Mitchell) — both hooked into surrogates themselves– are assigned to investigate. They’re stunned to learn the victim’s identity: Jarod Canter, son of Lionel Canter (James Cromwell), the scientist credited with inventing surrogates.
The case leads Greer to the isolated, slum-like settlement of a group known as the Dreads, who’ve rejected the use of surrogates as an abomination. Their leader, a man simply called The Prophet (Ving Rhames), is somehow involved and has knowledge of the unusual weapon used.
Greer needs to find that weapon quickly, as it poses a terrible threat. In the course of the investigation, Greer’s surrogate is destroyed, forcing him to unhook and directly interact with the world for the first time in years.
During his readjustment, Greer experiences profound claustrophobia and disorientation. Worse, his wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike) is so addicted to her surrogate that she refuses to unhook.
Here the film draws an intriguing parallel to our own hyper-connected, ultra-wired world. The automatons of Surrogates could easily be equated with the internet, with cell phones, email, iPods and other addictive technologies that depersonalize even as they make life easier.
There are some entertaining plot twists too, most involving the facts that surrogates don’t always resemble their users and that multiple users can access the same surrogate.
Ultimately, though, “Surrogates” is hampered by both a script that is, at times, hammy and by protracted action sequences, causing it to fall short of the emotional resonance it aims for.
The film’s pretty to look at, though, with glossy special effects and appealing production values; the surrogates themselves are duly creepy too, with a synthetic look that’s far too perfect for human, constantly reminding that surrogates are little more than high-tech appliances.
The film held my interest throughout, but, perhaps most telling of all, it felt longer than its 89-minute runtime.
Overall, “Surrogates” amounts to decent popcorn entertainment that arrived about a month too late. It’s an enjoyable, mostly disposable film that won’t linger long in memory.
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