by Luke Y. Thompson | Thu., Sep. 24, 2009 10:15 AM
Review in a Hurry: If you're thinking that Bruce Willis + guns + robots + based on comic book = big action movie, you may be disappointed. What we have here is more like T3 director Jonathan Mostow's most outlandish, rejected Terminator sequel concepts, superimposed onto a Fahrenheit 451-style cautionary sci-fi satire (same screenwriters as T3, too). And it's fun for what it is.
The Bigger Picture: Willis still takes a beating better than any action star in the business. But there are really only two significant action sequences in what's otherwise a murder mystery set in a future world. Oh, and pretty much everyone now owns a surrogate robot body—usually a blandly prettier version of themselves—through which they can live vicariously, feeling everything good that the surrogate experiences, but insulated from any damage it might sustain.
Those who don't choose to live this way are confined to a ghetto and dubbed "dreads," possibly because they are led by a dreadlocked leader named The Prophet (Ving Rhames) whose optimism for change is portrayed in some eerily familiar iconic posters.
Against this backdrop, society gets shaken up when a couple of dead bodies appear, who seem to have died at the exact moment their surrogates were killed—a Nightmare on Sim Street, if you will. Willis is on the case, in CG-face-lifted, artificially bewigged form (he wouldn't look out of place in Robert Zemeckis' animated Beowulf).
Though the movie appears, at first glance, to be using the same modern-futuristic, all-digital-displays template of I, Robot; Minority Report; and The Sixth Day (from which it also borrows a distinctive face clamp), the strongest aspect of Surrogates is how much more well-thought-out the world of the movie is than usual. From the Japanese electronics store that sells cut-rate models to the addictive, bong-shaped devices that deliver orgasmic charges when applied to surrogate bodies.
One gets the sense that there are plenty of other interesting stories going on, apart from the one we're watching.
Perhaps most subversive, though, is the way the film tries to push home the point that wrinkles are sexy. The perfected bodies of the surrogates become slightly unsettling after a while, even as Willis, James Cromwell and (in some scenes) a relatively makeup-free Radha Mitchell are shot to make every line in their faces look like a work of art. Not exactly what you're used to from Hollywood. And when surrogate flesh is peeled back to reveal grinning robot skulls, well, it's only mildly less subtle than the face-stretching in Terry Gilliam's Brazil.
Fans of actual sci-fi literature will probably enjoy this more than fans of slam-bang action. But at less than 90 minutes, it's not long enough to bore the haters too badly.
The 180—a Second Opinion: "Technology is bad and scary" is really an overly obvious moral at this point. And if everyone uses surrogates all the time for just about everything, wouldn't most of the users get morbidly obese and die young, as the recent Gamer implied?
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