Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Surrogates (2008) Review

This Movie Feels Like One

I’ll be honest when I say that I didn’t really warm up to Surrogates when I first heard about it. Unlike the more positive buzz it got from the online community, the previews and pre-release press didn’t really grab my attention. There was a certain air of familiarity to the movie that made it appear to be generic, although mostly it was because of the uninspired visual style that it seemed to display. It turns out that most of the stuff that I didn’t see at first were the aspects that many of the critics were praising in the early reviews, but they were also criticizing others that I looked forward to and weren’t aware of at first. One of those negatively received parts was Bruce Willis, who I thought would’ve elevated the otherwise non-noteworthy cast. Another was the script by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, the "dynamic" duo behind the two most recent (and inferior) Terminator installments. So what’s the deal then?

Plot Synopsis: Not too far into the future, a new form of interactive technology titled surrogates now exists that allows people to control their own robotic avatars without ever having to leave the comfort of their home. The users control how they want their surrogate to look and can do anything that they please, without worrying about any danger to themselves. Because of this, the crime and murder rates in the country have plummeted to almost non-existent levels. So when the surrogates owned by the surrogate creator's son and another woman are found disabled, FBI agents Greer and Peters think it is simply a routine sabotage of the vessels. But when the users are found murdered in their homes in the control chairs, the two partners must figure out what is causing the link between the surrogate death and user death. During the investigation, Greer's surrogate is destroyed and he now must walk about as a normal human while everyone else, including his wife (who refuses to leave her control chair), is synthetic.


Well what did surprise me about Surrogates was that the visual look, my least favorite element in the previews, turned out to be one of the better aspects on display. The clean, sterile color palette compliments the synthetic themes and appearance of the surrogate culture that has essentially become a nationwide ideal. It works very well because everything looks very cleansed and acts like a utopia, yet we know very well that this is just a hollow shell, an illusion that society has been “fixed” and everyone is “happy”. Because all the surrogates appear “perfect” and the actors have been airbrushed into oblivion with CGI, there is an undercurrent of creepiness that reminds you that society isn’t quite the same as it once was. There are various points that expand on the many possibilities that this culture contains (watch out for the gender switchers!) which help to sell the plausibility of the situation rather than make it look like a rushed thought. The story also presents a nice alternative to what might happen in the future thanks to the rise of all the social networking sites appearing on the internet, such as MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter where some people spend most of their time and lives (damn FarmVille). Of course, it’s also a commentary on our current technology-focused society where everyone’s lives depend on whether their cell phones are on them and the like.

The problem though is that despite doing such a great job setting up this world and some of its intricacies, Brancato and Ferris can’t seem to shake the various pratfalls that their past scripts also encountered. Plot holes are riddled throughout, jumping from plot point to plot point at breakneck speed barely giving us enough time to register the twists and turns. Also, many of the supporting characters, such as The Prophet portrayed by Ving Rhames, are given short shift and could have used some more characterization and elaboration. And at a hit-and-run length of 88 minutes, it wouldn’t have hurt to leave in some of the slower scenes to add depth (assuming there were any). Jonathon Mostow, a competent enough director who has to deal with the same two uneven writers he encountered on Terminator 3, succeeds in at least keeping us interested whenever the script falters. His skill with action is ever-present here too, as seen in the scenes where the surrogates do some breathtaking leaps of faith. Contrary to popular critical belief, the action never overwhelms the story and Mostow is wise in focusing more on the mystery aspects of the plot.


As for Bruce Willis, he gives an adequate performance as Greer; nothing exceptional yet nothing particularly bad either. He has some nice emotional moments pertaining to his wife’s obsession with being in a surrogate, and Greer is definitely a very conflicted character, yet I can’t shake the feeling that there was more of this explored in the movies' rough cut. Although most of the time Willis seems to just be breezing through the material and then calling in a days work. It's probably why he allowed himself to wear that ridiculous blonde wig. Like I said before, the supporting cast isn’t given enough screen time that they probably should’ve had, but there are still a few performances that keep it together. The aforementioned Rhames is always a delight to watch (especially when he reunites with his Pulp Fiction co-star Willis), and James Cromwell is quite good in his few scenes as Lionel Cantor, the creator of surrogates. It’s the women who could’ve used more scenes, especially Radha Mitchell who plays Greer’s partner Peters and who pretty much becomes a plot device by the time the movie starts cranking towards its conclusion. Rosamund Pike also shows up as Greer’s wife Maggie, and had her character been shown more, then the relationship woes between the two of them could have had more impact.

But despite the underdeveloped characters and plot, a pretty decent third act plot twist jolts the story with some life and concludes on a great note. I doubt you will see the twist coming and once it occurs the story and characters take on a whole different meaning than once believed. Unfortunately, much like the vessels themselves, Surrogates is pretty to look at, has a great story, and presents many intriguing ideas, but it doesn’t have much of a core or heart.

Initial Rating: 2.5/4    Revised Rating: 2/4

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