Bruce Willis vies for a comeback in Surrogates, a futuristic mystery where much of the world is inhabited by surrogate robots, controlled by a human population that has relegated itself to the sanctuary of their homes. Surrogates have changed the way people interact, as there is no longer any fear of communicable diseases or other dangers of the real world. But when two humans are found dead, apparently killed via their surrogates, a massive threat is exposed, threatening to destroy everything that's been built.
Surrogates works despite a number of flaws; it's entertaining, engaging and fun, even if it could have been so much more. It's hard not to like, but impossible to love.
The movie works primarily thanks to Willis, who isn't his most charismatic self but still commands every scene he's in. First seen as a surrogate, a younger, smoother version of the action star with a bad blonde wig (why, if you can look like anyone, would you choose that hair?) and colorful cheeks, Willis looks troubled by the life he's led; but when he appears as his real, 50-something self, his chiseled demeanor really adds to the film. As soon as Willis gets his first punch to the face, it becomes clear that humanity has lost its way, and that John McClane is the man to put things back on track.
Beyond Willis, Surrogates has an awesome premise. Sure, it's a stretch to believe that every human in the U.S. would just stay at home and send robots out in their stead, but sci-fi films often ask you to work the imagination. The opportunities established by the concept are enormous, as there are tremendous political, physical and relationship implications at hand. Willis hasn't seen his wife in the flesh in years; the creator of surrogates (played by James Cromwell) has exiled himself out of shame for what he's created; beautiful women could be fat men; cheating isn't really cheating; what is the cost of warfare when human beings are no longer involved; and to what length will the humans who refuse surrogacy go to? There are many ways Surrogates could have gone, and director Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3, U-571) tries to tackle many of them.
Surrogates has an interesting story that plays out more like a "Law & Order" episode than an action film. There are a couple decent action sequences, including one where a damaged, surrogate-version of Willis leaps from building to building in pursuit of a cop killer, but those expecting an action movie should look elsewhere. There are also some funny moments thrown in for good measure.
And yet, Surrogates doesn't quite click. It presents a lot of interesting, compelling ideas, but Mostow never takes a full bite out of any of them. The idea that the non-surrogate humans are planning a revolution is at one moment a central focus and next an afterthought, a theme that is completely ignored by the end of the film. The relationship complications between Willis and his wife (played by Rosamund Pike) seem more like filler than anything else. There are enough plot holes or illogical moments to keep you distracted, and, most importantly, Mostow fails to make the film truly exciting. It's entertaining, but Mostow doesn't go out of his way to build suspense toward an incredible, awe-inspiring finale. Surrogates had the potential to amount to such, and it just doesn't live up to its potential.
Surrogates makes you wonder what kind of film this could have been had another screenwriter been brought in to clean up and tighten the story and another director hired who was more committed to turning the screenplay into an exciting, action-packed thrill ride. There are a lot of great ideas presented in Surrogates that are never fleshed out in a satisfying way. And yet, strangely enough, the movie is a fun and entertaining way to spend an evening. Recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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