Imagine a world where crime is almost non-existent. Only beautiful people roam the streets, and everyone is living through surrogates, which are robots controlled remotely from a console within the privacy of the operator’s home.
Operators can live an entire life without ever taking off their bathrobes.
The movie Surrogates, by screenwriters Michael Ferris and John D. Brancato, is based on the graphic novel by the same name by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele.
In the movie, FBI Agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) uses a surrogate to try to find out why two surrogate operators were killed, and why their surrogates were destroyed.
While on the hunt for the murderer, Greer’s surrogate gets destroyed, also. So while he’s waiting for the new, government-issued surrogate to arrive, he has to roam through the streets of New York “unprotected.” It’s once he’s out on his own that he realizes the downfalls of having a surrogate.
The concept of Surrogates is conceivable. And there’s no horny teenage boy fantasy to totally ruin the film (take that, Gamer!) It’s simply a man who wants his real wife back, scar and all. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In the film, the audience learns very quickly that all of the beautiful people are obviously the surrogates (or surreys as a nickname). Real humans seem like a cult. Surreys are the norm of society.
Maybe the filmmakers are trying to make the statement that not all of the glossy beauty we see in movies, on TV, on magazine covers, and on the Internet is totally real. That kind of beauty has been glossed, air brushed, and has a team of make-up artists, hair stylists, clothing stylists and a great graphics department.
That world is a fantasy the same way the operators are living out their fantasies through the surrogates. This theme is brought home through visual depictions of the operators with pasty, pockmarked skin, even as their surrogates look like flawless versions of their operators.
I won’t spoil the entire plot for you, but I will tell you it has its strengths. The plot is weakened, however, by the fast pace of the film. Even the climax is so rushed that if an audience member blinks, he or she will miss it. I know I almost did. Director Jonathan Mostow has taken a thriller and tried to make it into a fast-paced action film. This kind of societal plot deserves some care. Mostow should have taken his time with this film.
Moving on to the acting: Willis goes back to his Die Hard roots for this film, and he’s still quite the action star. He brings pathos to a character, almost carrying the film on his back.
Radha Mitchell, who plays Agent Peters, runs a close second in talent. Her Peters is quite likable. Likewise, Rosamund Pike, who plays Maggie, Greer’s beloved wife, is pretty decent. She really captures the fantasy that surrogates create for their operators, while showing the real reason why anyone would actually relinquish his or her life to a machine. It’s living in the moment in reverse.
Sadly, the other actors of note are quite talented, but have failed to bring their brand of ability to this film. I partially blame the director for that.
Boris Kodjoe as Chief Stone is completely gorgeous, as usual, but isn’t a believable baddie. Ving Rhames as The Prophet is not too believable as a hippie dread, either.
James Cromwell as Canter, the brains behind the surrogates, is more creepy than he is a genius. J.L. Highsmith, a black actor playing the surrogate of a Jewish doctor named Dr. Steinberg, is a little too stiff for me, which is a shame because he’s an ignored talent.
Surrogates has the makings of the thrillers that were so popular in the mid-1990s. That was an era when real thrillers built a plot from the beginning, and were more like thinking games. These films, including Double Jeopardy, The Pelican Brief, and even Déjà Vu were the kinds of movies with suspense to literally put you on the edge of your seat.
But films like Surrogates have fallen victim to the quick-and-easy action that seems to plague theaters. And, thus, they fail with a thud, missing the mark on creating a fantasy world where the audience members can sink their teeth into the plot and get lost for a good hour and a half at the movie theater.