Surrogates (2009): **
Directed by Jonathan Mostow
It has all the makings of a fun time: a sci-fi
premise, Bruce Willis, and a dastardly mystery involving the fate
of the whole world. But it never really takes off. It's all just
kinda there. Just kinda, y'know, "Meh."
There are several things I really did enjoy about the movie. I
can't really credit the movie with the premise, because this film
is based on a graphic novel of the same name. In this near future,
almost everyone stays in darkened rooms at home and only goes out
via robotic bodies that you control with your mind. They're your
surrogate bodies: you see through their robotic eyes, sense through
their synthetic skin, etc. This is several years into this technology,
so the robots move and look extremely life-like.
That was one of my favorite things about the film. Even though
the robots are very life-like, they're not exactly perfect. A very
clever special effect was used on the surrogates to make their skin
look, well, too perfect. Plastic. Fake. It was very subtle but very
well done and gave everything a bit of a creep factor, like a photo
of a person that has been airbrushed way too much so that you just
know that's not what the person really looks like. And when we do
see real people, the makeup artists did an extra job of putting
freckles and blemishes and combination skin on them so the contrast
is very strong, and you can kinda see why it would be an attractive
idea to use a flawless version of yourself as your body.
There are some interesting ideas touched on here and there in the
movie, such as people borrowing other people's surrogates in order
to go incognito as it were. There are also people who have become
so addicted to their surrogates that they keep using them even when
they're in their own house alone with their spouse. There aren't
any sidewalk cafes, since no one goes out to eat (the surrogates
don't need it), but there are recharge booths all over the place
in case your body runs low on battery. And also there is much less
need for safety. If a speeding car crashes into you and destroys
your surrogate body, you just lose your connection with it and wake
up back at your house. It's inconvenient, sure, but insurance'll
probably pay for most of it.
The problem with the movie is that it only just touches on all
these ideas before hurrying along to a standard mystery plot that
isn't nearly as interesting as the world that it exists in. I would
love to see just a documentary about what this world is like, and
all the logical extensions of living in a world full of robot bodies.
But instead we get a plot that, while periodically interesting,
just kinda... happens.
And that's the main problem with the film. It somehow never manages
to be engaging, which I think can mostly be blamed on the director.
There are some half-hearted attempts to get us to care about what's
going on, but they never really work. Like the fact that Bruce Willis's
character lost a child some indeterminate time before the movie
begins—it just seems like a cheap, obvious ploy to get us
to sympathize with the guy, and was much too much like the exact
same situation in Minority Report, only not handled nearly
But watching this movie made me realize one thing for sure: I think
Bruce Willis should have been cast instead of Tom Cruise in about
99% of Tom Cruise movies. Especially movies like Minority Report
and War of the Worlds. Tom Cruise is never believable as
a down-and-out everyman who is just struggling to keep his head
above water, whereas Bruce Willis was born to play that man and
has done it again and again with great success.
The film also has some striking similarities to the recent (and
much better, which should tell you a lot) movie I, Robot.
Surrogates even cast James Cromwell as the man who made
the surrogate technology possible, a role that is almost identical
to the one in I, Robot where he played the man who made
advanced robotics possible.
But neither Willis nor Cromwell are able to make us engage with
their characters, the action scenes are never particularly thrilling,
and the central plot (even though it reaches Earth-shaking proportions)
never really seems to take off. It makes me wonder if a better director
(like Prohais, you managed to make a Will Smith action movie like
I, Robot into something much better than it should have
been) could've made something better out of it, or if the fault
lies inherently with the script. I dunno. I don't really care enough
to wonder all that much, and that's really a shame.