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SURROGATES (director: Jonathan Mostow; screenwriters: John Brancato/Michael Ferris/based on the graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele; cinematographer: Oliver Wood; editor: Kevin Stitt; music: Richard Marvin; cast: Bruce Willis (Tom Greer), Radha Mitchell (Jennifer Peters), Rosamund Pike (Maggie), Boris Kodjoe (Andy Stone, FBI supervisor), James Francis Ginty (Younger Canter), James Cromwell (Older Canter, Lionel), Ving Rhames (the Prophet), Michael Cudlitz (Colonel Brendon), Jack Noseworthy (Strickland), Devin Ratry (Bobby), James Francis Ginty (Lionel Canter’s surrogate); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: David Hoberman/Todd Lieberman/Max Handelman; Touchstone Pictures; 2009)
“Semi-plausible and semi-watchable futuristic (but still looking like today’s world) dystopian ‘save the world’ sci-fi thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jonathan Mostow (“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”/”Breakdown”/”U-571”) directs this semi-plausible and semi-watchable futuristic (but still looking like today’s world) dystopian ‘save the world’ sci-fi thriller that’s about humans who live their lives via surrogate robots–a virtual reality life, whereby the human owner can stay at home linked to a terminal and the registered surrogates go out and do your job or whatever. Bruce Willis stars as the ‘everyman’ FBI agent, Tom Greer, in a familiar heroic role he can sleepwalk through and does.

The procedural thriller is based on the little-known graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele, and scripted by John Brancato and Michael Ferris. It relates to people relying on their computers more and more, and warns that too much reliance on high-tech might not be such a good idea after all despite the obvious conveniences it offers. Kubrick issued the same caveat with his 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and that has since become more or less the mantra for modern-day sci-fiers, whether of the commercial (like this one) or artistic kind.

We’re told that the wheelchair-bound Dr. Lionel Canter (James Cromwell) invented surrogates and founded a large corporation to market it, but has since been given the boot by the company when it was taken over a few years ago and has withdrawn from public life. Currently 99% of the population is connected to surrogates and that crime, racism and other societal ills have been eradicated and the streets are safe and walked by only the beautiful people. The minority who reject surrogates are called ‘meatbags.’ It even shows a desert war being currently waged by surrogate soldiers (who can’t be killed, only mechanically damaged).

Things get hectic as two humans die when their surrogates are “killed,” which is not supposed to happen in this paradise, and one is the college son of Lionel’s. FBI agents Tom Greer, who investigates as a blond wig attired robot with a CGI facelift to make him look youthful, and his partner, Jennifer Peters (Radha Mitchell), surmise that a dangerous rogue has gotten his hands on the world’s most deadly bioscience weapon (when fired at a surrogate, it unleashes a computer-killing virus that destroys the supposedly untouchable human user too). It was contracted by the Army from Lionel’s former company, but has since been cancelled after tests. The machine is capable of killing off the entire world population of both surrogates and humans.

The gung-ho Tom disobeys orders from his boss (Boris Kodjoe) and chases down, Strickland (Jack Noseworthy), the human killer and thief of the death machine in a section of Boston known as the reservation, run by the hammy Dread leader known as the Prophet (Ving Rhames). The reservation is populated by the ugly people who reject the surrogates for their own flesh-and-blood. The embittered people lead a marginal existence and have a pact with the authorities that no surrogates can enter their turf or else they will riot. Since Tom’s surrogate is caught by the Prophet’s bodyguard, after he nabs Strickland, his robot is destroyed and Tom’s boss puts the now human bald and much older looking agent on suspension and doesn’t allow him to get a surrogate replacement. This makes Tom’s wife (Rosamund Pike) unhappy, as she’s become addicted to the surrogate lifestyle and wants to be surrounded only by beautiful young people.

The mystery conspiracy story becomes who is behind possessing this machine and thereby playing God with the world, as the agents suspect that someone connected with the giant technology corporation had a hand in it.

The sci-fi conceit has promise and the production values are great, but the execution is uneven, the plot becomes too formulaic to be interesting and all the guns-and-chase scenes are just too familiar–lifted from a myriad of other thrillers — and left no particular impression on this viewer, except it worked as a somewhat diverting time killer that’s quickly digested and forgotten.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”