Wednesday, August 11, 2010

DVD Review: "Surrogates"

Futuristic technology and its moral considerations have always been great foils for science fiction. Whether it's a classic novel written by Robert Heinlein, or a movie like "The Terminator," the theme is usually whether or not humanity has suffered for our quest for knowledge and a more comfortable life-- and Bruce Willis' latest thriller, "Surrogates," is no different.

"Surrogates" is set in a near, but strange, future in which human beings rarely interact with each other in their real bodies; instead relying on android bodies, known as surrogates, that people can plug their conscious minds into.  Surrogates offer both physical safety and perfection and humanity has gotten to the point where it is considered strange to actually leave home and risk injury by interacting with the real world. Humans who rebel against the surrogate technology have been segregated into "Dread" reservations where they live in squalor and are lead by a man known as The Prophet (Ving Rhames).

When the son of the inventor of the surrogates, Dr. Lionel Cantor (James Cromwell,) is killed using a new technology that bypasses the failsafe built into the surrogates, FBI agents Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) and Jennifer Peters (Radha Mitchell) are called in to investigate.

"Surrogates" is a movie that tries hard to be more than a boilerplate thriller by showing us the antiseptic world in which humanity now lives. Crime is at an all-time low and homicide is virtually unheard of thanks to the practically indestructible nature of the surrogates; but people are now reduced to experiencing life from their recliners as they plug into a machines that go to 'standby' mode whenever they are confronted by uncomfortable emotions. Everyone is too-beautiful for words, yet stiff and unemotional, and so far removed from their own natural bodies that people who do not use surrogates are referred to as "meat sacks."

In a way the movie almost succeeds too well in showing us how unappealing it is to take away our basic frailties as it's very hard to connect with any of the characters in the early part of the film. Willis' character is almost comically distracting because we are supposed to believe that an idealized Bruce Willis would have Ken-doll hair and a bland, sarcasm-free mien; but when the real Tom Greer finally shows us, he's infinitely more interesting than the surrogate version. And while that is, no doubt, one point the movie is trying to make, it highlights the viewer's awareness that we haven't really been that invested in the well-being of the character throughout much of the film.

"Surrogates" is also one of those movies that tries to reach for something but doesn't quite succeed going beyond tepidly thoughtful. Bruce Willis does what he can for the film, but it's clear he's too good for the material and seems to be slumming it Sean Connery-style and Ving Rhames is completely wasted on this film. From a narrative standpoint there are some flaws as well. We're given a small demonstration of what the surrogates can do, as they are vastly superior to human beings physically, but we're led to believe that people interact with each other as if they are made of glass-- I happen to think the opposite would be the natural outcome. The anti-surrogate population are also shown in extreme poverty, to the point that they live in absolute filth, but no reason other than their choice to live surrogate-free is offered as an explanation.

"Surrogates" isn't a horrible movie, and frankly I've seen worse movies (like "Transformers 2" and "G.I. Joe") fare better at the movie theater. But it never really rises above a B-movie feel as it settles on the same old clich├ęs that show up in movies of this kind. It'll make you think a little-- but not too much.


Sullivan McPig said...

I must say it didn't make me think except for 'Yeah, sure, that's likely to happen'. But it was an entertaining movie.

Charles Gramlich said...

I enjoyed it OK. Maybe 3 stars. I actually bought the graphic novel afterward to see if it was better, and it was better in some places but weaker in others.

SQT said...

I think we all pretty much agree. It's not bad, not great. Good to throw in when you want some light entertainment.

Budd said...

it was just okay, which was disappointing. A book with similar themes is Kiln People, but instead of robots, people live through golems.

Bryan said...

It was alright. The concept was pretty cool but they could have done a lot more with it.

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