(Touchstone) Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, James Cromwell, Boris Kodjoe, Ving Rhames, James Francis Ginty, Michael Cudlitz, Jack Noseworthy, Devin Ratray, Helena Mattson, Jeffrey de Serrano, Danny Smith. Directed by Jonathan Mostow
All of us are the sums of our own experiences. When we begin experiencing things by proxy, how real are those experiences? What is the line between our humanity and our bodies?
In the future, most people are electronically linked to androids called Surrogates. These virtually indestructible beings can do amazing things, things humans aren’t engineered to do. These Surrogates live our lives for us while we remain in the safety of our own homes. Invented by the reclusive Dr. Canter (Cromwell), his company VSI had grown to be one of the largest, most prosperous in the world although Canter had long since parted ways with them.
Tom Greer (Willis) works as an FBI agent. He and his partner Lorene Peters (Mitchell) are called to the scene of a crime where a mysterious motorcyclist (Noseworthy) – whose name, we later find out, is Miles Strickland – caused a car to slam into a group of Surrogates waiting to get into a nightclub. Not much of a crime really – destruction of property. The real problem materializes when it turns out two of the Surries (Smith and Mattson) had been hit with some sort of electric feedback device, blowing out their ocular devices, their chips and, as it happens, their operators as well.
Greer realizes quickly that they are dealing with a homicide, the first in a decade or more. Although his boss Andrew Stone (Kodjoe) is skeptical, the evidence looks pretty incontravertible. Things begin to get really messy when they find out that the male victim was in fact the son of the legendary Dr. Canter.
Greer has problems of his own. His son died recently in a car accident and his wife Maggie (Pike) has retreated further and further into the world of her Surrogate. The gulf between the two of them is widening, and he doesn’t know how to begin to bridge it.
When Strickland is spotted, a chase ensues that leads into a human’s only zone – an enclave of Luddites that have turned their backs on the Surrogacy technology and live simply, following the words of a semi-religious leader known as The Prophet (Rhames). They are called, somewhat snidely, Dreads by the Surrogacy-plugged humans and not for their choice of hairstyles, although the Prophet has plenty of those. This refers to a perceived fear of technology.
Despite the ban on Surrogate presence in the Dread zones, Greer chases Strickland in there anyway (not that he has a choice – the helicopter he’s riding in crashes there after Strickland turns the feedback weapon on the pilot of the ‘copter) and his Surrogate is destroyed before he can get the weapon away from Strickland.
However, now Greer is without a Surrogate and has to enter the real world for the first time in a very long time. Vulnerable, terrified and unused to his own body, he must investigate this crime and find out who’s behind it before the weapon is unleashed on millions of innocent people.
The movie is based on a Top Shelf graphic novel. Mostow, who has a fine resume of solid action movies, delivers again here. Basically, he realizes that the technology here is just taking existing surveillance, communications and social interaction technology to the next level. Surrogates are merely physical manifestations of the avatars we use in programs like Second Life and YoVille. Beyond that, the world onscreen is pretty much recognizably the world outside our door.
As intriguing as the premise is, it needs a decent cast to pull it off. Willis has made a career out of roles like this, the imperfect cop. He’s not the superman who leaps tall buildings in a single bound (although his avatar comes close to that); he has an Achilles heel, his personal life is a mess and while he has great instincts, he doesn’t always get his man – at least, not right away. Radha Mitchell is impressive here. She is one of those actresses that don’t get considered for plum roles, but whenever she does get onscreen, you scratch your head and wonder why she isn’t getting that consideration. She’s a marvelous actress and as she shows here, she cleans up rather nicely too.
The action sequences are pretty impressive. There are two main chases; the one where Greer’s Surrogate chases Strickland into the Dread zone and one later where the human Greer chases a Surrogate through the streets of Boston. It’s a marvelous juxtaposition, and Mostow handles it masterfully. There are some special effects, but this isn’t a movie overloaded with them. Mostly, he leaves it to the make-up artists who do a great job of making Willis look younger (with a little help, no doubt, from some CGI) and the Surrogates look nearly perfect.
There are a few quibbles. I found myself wondering why the FBI would be called in on what was ostensibly a destruction of property call, one that the local police would normally handle. The next time I see some teens defacing our development’s fence with graffiti, I’ll be sure to call our local Bureau.
This time of year the multiplexes are filled with summer leftovers and movies that the studios want to get into theaters as quickly and as quietly as possible. Surrogates is a good choice for those looking for a newer movie with a goodly amount of quality that won’t leave you feeling like you just wasted the last two hours of your life when you leave the theater. In September, that’s about as good as it gets.
REASONS TO GO: An intriguing premise handled well with some decent action sequences. Willis inhabits a role that must feel familiar to him. The world depicted here is realistic and believable.
REASONS TO STAY: Not a lot of amazing effects for a science fiction film. There are a few head-scratching moments in terms of logic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is quite a bit of violence, some foul language and some implied sexuality. Suitable for most teens.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the scenes inside the VSI building, one of the video screens displaying VSI commercials shows the rotating head of a T-800 Terminator from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines which Mostow also directed.
HOME OR THEATER: If you’re looking for a decent film in the multiplex this time of year, this one fits the bill. Otherwise it’s fine on home video.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: The Visitor