Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and a drug-related scene, 88 minutes
"Surrogates": Colorful visuals, pale story
Ever wish you had an extra body to get some of your stuff done throughout the day? The new sci-fi thriller "Surrogates" starring Bruce Willis shows what happens when that wish comes true. A provocative premise and exciting visuals nearly make up for the stale, predictable story with tremendous leaps of logic to buy into. Based on a recent graphic comic book series, it starts out well in its initial chapters then turns into standard, predictable Bruce Willis hero-save-the-day stuff you've seen many times before.
"Surrogates" is set in the near future in which humans live in near-total isolation, never leaving the safety and comfort of their homes, and only communicating with their fellow man through remotely-controlled robotic bodies that serve as "surrogates," designed as better-looking versions of their human operators. Because people are safe all the time, and damage done to a surrogate is not even felt by its owner, it is a peaceful world free from fear, pain, and crime.
People are living their lives remotely from the safety of their own homes via robotic surrogates -- sexy, physically perfect mechanical representations of themselves. It's an ideal world where crime, pain, fear and consequences don't exist. When the first murder in years jolts this utopia, FBI agent Greer (Willis) discovers a vast conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and must abandon his own surrogate, risking his life to unravel the mystery.
"Surrogates" has an appealing premise along with Willis and some nifty, enjoyable special effects going for it, but the significant changes to the source material turn it into an overly conventional, rather banal murder mystery that, no pun intended, isn't quite fleshed out. Jonathan Mostow, the guy behind "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" and "U-571," has a few unique touches but the message lacks large-scale ambition to have real impact. "Surrogates" lacks a compelling, thought-provoking fervor that something like this should have and doesn't truly examine what society has done to itself with the creation of the surrogates.
Unsurprisingly, the best part about "Surrogates" are the robots. They're botoxy plastic skin perfect, a shiny semblance of their real selves. The Bruce Willis/Greer surrogate is particularly amusing, with fake blond hair and fit body, even if the role is one he's played before (like 12 years ago, in "The Fifth Element"). However, he's well-paired with much younger, prettier eye candy in Radha Mitchell ("Silent Hill") as his crime-solving partner and Rosamund Pike ("Doom") as his wife. The rest of the cast isn't as memorable, with the normally solid Cromwell playing the heavy, but a vastly underwritten role, and Ving Rhames, terribly and laughably miscast as a dreadlocked leader of the humans.
"Surrogates" loses considerable steam when it slows down to focus on the stale melodrama of Greer's homelife after he decides to choose human life over surrogate life. "What do you expect of me?" his wife croons. Considering the talent involved, a more compelling story for starters. By the way, the writing team of Michael Ferris and John D. Brancato were also responsible for the equally languid "Terminator Salvation."
The real premise of "Surrogates" - having far more attractive people do all your work (and one that eerily reminds of "The Jetsons") - isn't a bad one, just one that isn't explored to its full potential. The entertaining visuals provide for a few lively moments, but it can't cover up what it really is: a predictable, mediocre sci-fi murder mystery with few genuine revelations. Consider this a dull cousin to "Blade Runner."