Surrogates review

Bruce Willis returns to science fiction with Surrogates. But was it worth him bothering, wonders Ron...

Have you ever wondered what Bruce Willis would look like with a blond Tom Cruise haircut? I know I have! Well, thanks to Surrogates, you now know the answer to that question: terrible! While Bruce Willis’ hair isn’t the only flaw in Surrogates, the latest comic book adaptation to hit the big screen, it is the one featured most prominently in advertisements.

The fellow with the polyester hairpiece isn’t Bruce Willis’ character Tom Greer, it’s Tom’s surrogate. Surrogates are lifelike robots that sync up to one’s brain and that users can control via special couches and headsets that look like a dentist chair with tanning booth goggles and laptop computer parts attached.

Rather than taking you to a virtual world, or controlling a real person as in Gamer, your Surrogate goes out into the real world and interacts with other Surrogates. You’re still living in the real world, just without any of the danger or discomfort that comes with rain, snow, heat, cold, syphilis, robbery, car accidents, and all the other stuff that brings down the average life span.

Provided your brain still works, you can control a Surrogate, and that Surrogate can look like anyone or be anything. (Most people choose to look like idealized versions of themselves, because it’s easier on the special effects department.)

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The Surrogates work so well that, indeed, crime and disease are almost completely wiped out. That’s why, when two Surrogate users are found dead about the time their Surrogates are also found destroyed, well, everyone’s a little confused. Could humanity’s latest way to insulate ourselves from legitimate interaction with others prove fatal?

There isn’t much mystery to Surrogates, but there is one big drawing card, and that’s Bruce Willis. I’ll admit to being a big fan of the man, and I think his usual quality performance as Tom Greer helps elevate the film into something more watchable than it could have been.

The choices made by whoever chose the look of the various Surrogates/wigs and fake beards for the lead actors made some very off-putting choices, as you can see from Bruce’s blond wig and the “Bob Marley on HGH” that is Ving Rhames’ character The Prophet, leader of the anti-Surrogate Dreads. Radha Mitchell is given very little to do as Greer’s partner, Agent Peters, and James Cromwell is wasted in his role as Canter, the inventor of the Surrogates and founder of VSI.

The problem with everyone being indestructible is that, when there’s a big chase through a city, there’s no real sense of peril for the hero. After all, when one person is a human and one is a borderline indestructible cyborg, there’s not much that can be done to make it incredibly interesting. However, there are some good chances to shoehorn in some bad blue-screen work, which Surrogates has plenty of. While the trip to Uncanny Valley via the digitally-smoothed Surrogates was successful, the film did not do much with the conceit of the Surrogate customization. There were only really two non-human Surrogates ever shown; why no humanoid lizards or headless torso-only Surrogates?

I guess director Jonathan Mostow didn’t want to remind people he directed Terminator 3. That’s the only reason I can think of to not throw in some interesting background Surrogates; I can understand not wanting to mangle your lead actors too much, and I know not everyone would want odd Surrogates, but you’d think someone out there would want a freakish one with exposed robotics or something, right?

Another problem with Surrogates is that it is a very busy film. There are a lot of different subplots going on all at once, and the movie doesn’t really know if it wants to be a breathless action movie, a sci-fi film, or a murder mystery. The script, from Michael Ferris and John Brancato, never really decides quite what it wants to be and is weaker for attempting to bridge genres.

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The Surrogate concept is very similar to their earlier movie Mindwarp, about people who hook themselves into reclining couches and live in a pre-Internet fantasy world where they can be anyone or do anything. Of course, back in 1992 that was high-concept stuff. Now it’s Tuesday raid nights on World of Warcraft. It’s not really futuristic enough to be sci-fi anymore, no matter how odd the characters might look.

Surrogates isn’t a bad movie. It is definitely entertaining at some points, and Bruce Willis is good at what Bruce Willis does. There’s just nothing special about Surrogates; it’s a Greatest Hits album with moving pictures. You’ve seen it all before, and usually in a better movie.

US correspondent Ron Hogan wants a Surrogate with a human face peeling off to expose a lizard face, like the climactic scene in V. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.


2 out of 5