a critiQal film review Surrogates (2009)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: People are living their lives remotely from the safety of their own homes via robotic surrogates - sexy, physically perfect mechanical representations of themselves. It's an ideal world where crime, pain, fear and consequences don't exist. When the first murder in years jolts this utopia, FBI agent Greer (Willis) discovers a vast conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and must abandon his own surrogate, risking his life to unravel the mystery.

868 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 20s)
  • ...some high-powered special effects sequences are about the only things worth checking out in this rather blah futuristic thriller.

From the first preview of futuristic sci-fi thriller Surrogates, it seemed to be something worth seeing. Bruce Willis as a cop in a world where everyone uses a surrogate self to interact with daily life? That sounded like the next evolutionary step from I, Robot (2004) – and a must-see.

As usual, however, our money situation didn’t fit in well with our movie-going demands, and we had to wait until the film arrived on DVD. And as often is the case, became just another in a list of films we wanted to see.

Recently, however, with our introduction into the realm of NetFlix® streaming films, we have been going back and revisiting some of the films we’ve missed. This past week, Surrogates popped up as a new film – and we jumped at the chance to finally see if Bruce Willis would be our guide to another futuristic thrill ride, or if we were headed toward just another disappointment.

Oddly, in a film where everyone is actually supposed to be a “robot”-like character (called a “surrogate”) during the opening sequences, the actors tend to over-emphasize the fact they are playing a robot – usually through quick, jerky movements. Once the viewer gets the idea, they usually tone it down a bit, and those odd movements slowly fade away. Surrogates is no different, and the waxy sheen to the actors’ faces coupled with those abrupt, jerky movements will clue the viewer in rather quickly that something isn’t quite as it appears.

Once the film gets underway, the reasoning behind showcasing the non-humanoid aspect of the “surrogates” quickly becomes clear when Bruce Willis’ character is suddenly forced into the world without his robotic buffer, and over-emphasize his human aspects in the same way he over-emphasized the robotic aspects of his “surrogate”.

It’s a decent dual role for him, but the director shoots it a bit too-straightforward, not giving him as much room to maneuver as some of his other futuristic efforts – 12 Monkeys (1995) being a prime example. That film was set up to keep the viewer much more in the dark, and therefore more dependent on the smallest nuances of Willis’ performance, trying to gleam as many clues as they could based on his littlest movement.

In Surrogates, however, it’s almost exactly the opposite. Each step of the film is fully mapped out for the viewer long before it arrives, and the viewer needs more a warm body in the role than anyone with any sort of acting chops – be that in action movies or otherwise. They’ve obviously simply hired on Bruce for the star power he brings to the film, whereas he seemed to sign on for a much more complex movie than what is actually delivered to the viewer.

Unfortunately, that means most of his performance is squandered on other areas of the film – the deeper meaning the film is trying to send to it’s viewers, mixed in with the glitz and glitter of the futuristic locales and snazzy special effects. The film’s attempts at this, however, are so pathetic as to be laughable, and viewers will quickly tune out when the film starts getting all sentimental.

Rather than simply gloss over these quick moments and get back to wholesale destruction of items and robots, however, Surrogates then tries to rush through a few more sequences to set up the film for a wholly predictable ending. Sadly, on this rush to the end, the film discards normal things like reason and proceeds to come up with less and less plausible explanations as to why the characters in their script are acting the way they are. By the time the film finally reaches it’s foregone conclusion, the viewer will have given up the storyline as a lost cause, and will instead be sitting around hoping for another one-armed chase or another street car demolition derby to liven things up before the credits roll.

Thankfully, the special effects are rather impressive, even when the storyline isn’t. From characters having their eyes explode to a mass standstill (seen in the previews) some of the special effects shots are rather good. Even when gravity seems to have taken a vacation during a pell-mell race through what looks to be a train car graveyard, the sight of Bruce Willis speeding along, totally unfazed, despite an arm – shorn above the elbow and showcasing a mass of wires under the skin – spewing green liquid…well, that’s just something that has to be seen. Sure, the effects aren’t quite up to par (still stuck on the Spider-Man (2002) gaffes, in fact), but it’s still quite a sight to see – especially it’s rather blunt conclusion.

Surrogates never quite lives up to the promise of it’s previews. While this easily had the makings of the next 12 Monkeys (1995) in terms of solid futuristic thriller, Surrogates squanders most of it’s promise early on, only managing to keep viewers around thanks to some high-power (if not quite flawless) special effects sequences.

If you’re looking for a futuristic flick with decent popcorn-worthy action, you could do worse than Surrogates. Go into this one looking for anything more than that, and you’re bound to be disappointed.

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