Surrogates

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surrogatesSurrogates
2009, USA
Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Written by Michael Ferris, John D. Brancato, Robert Venditti (graphic novel), Brett Weldele (graphic novel)
Starring Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Ving Rhames

The idea of creating an imaginary persona as a replacement for reality is nothing new, at least for those of us who try to pick up 16-year-old girls on the Internet. But in the new science fiction film Surrogates, based upon the comic book by writer Robert Venditti and artist Brett Weldele, that concept is taken to its extreme.

In the world of Surrogates, most of humanity remotely operates customizable androids instead of leaving the house. Not only are operators able to remain safely cocooned inside, but they can fulfill their fantasies by living life in whatever form they choose, from a buxom blonde to a cyber-punk with enough body-modifications to give those guys with the split dicks at BMEzine hard-ons. Surrogates have provided a safe alternative to actual life, reducing violent crime rates to near-zero.  Until, of course, someone develops a weapon that destroys both the surrogates and their operators. Which means it’s time for Bruce Willis to run around and shoot people.

Surrogates has an intriguing concept. Or rather, the comic book does. The movie, unsurprisingly, takes the source material’s themes and lays them over a very familiar template, the kind where helicopters crash into things and people frequently have to turn in their badge and gun. Venditti’s original story was focused on a device that destroyed surrogates, but didn’t harm the operators, and therefore didn’t include much of a murder mystery, and certainly not one that threatens the lives of everyone on the planet. But, like 2004’s adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, the stakes have been raised considerably in the film version, a decision that has mixed results.

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I agree that perhaps the comic’s focus on property crime isn’t well suited to the big screen, unless the target audience is an insurance adjuster’s convention, so the logic behind that change is understandable. But the problem is that in shifting the focus, screenwriters Michael Ferris and John D. Bracanto have transformed an interesting idea into a formulaic action film, with car chases and gun-fights interspersed at intervals regular enough to keep the dads in the crowd awake. Director Jonathan Mostow replaces much of the depressive gloom of the comic with the cosmetic shine of a lip-gloss commercial, and while that fits in with the film’s exploration of style over substance, it doesn’t make it any less like watching The Real Housewives of Orange County with explosions. And the exposition in the film, gracefully woven throughout the comic, has been jammed into a clumsy opening sequence that feels like someone accidentally filmed the film’s synopsis.

As Greer, the police detective assigned to investigating the mysterious deaths, Bruce Willis is capable enough, though aside from a few emotional moments with his surrogate addicted wife (played by Rosamund Pike), he’s not given much to do but scowl and yell. In fact, those interactions with his wife are when the film really comes alive. Sadly, they’re few and far between, and when they’re over, it’s back to Mostow et al going through the simplistic action movie paces, and stumbling over them on more than one occasion.

Al Kratina

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