Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence, Disturbing Images, Language, Sexuality and a Drug-Related Scene
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Written by: John Brancato & Michael Ferris
(based on the graphic novel THE SURROGATES by Robert Venditti)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Jack Noseworthy, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames, Boris Kodjoe & Devin Ratray
SURROGATES is a sci-fi-action thriller that sounds really cool in theory and had a solid marketing campaign behind it. I remember being excited for back in Fall 2009 and then leaving the theater underwhelmed. Where does this high-concept, so-so delivery sci-fi flick go wrong? Well, it’s due to a variety of factors that I’ll be looking at. SURROGATES is not a bad movie, not at all. There are some cool qualities and decent entertainment value to be had, but not much else.
In the far distant future of 2025, society has embraced the usage of mind-operated androids, known as “surrogates.” These machines allow you to live your life without ever leaving your home. You change your appearance to suit your needs (regardless of age, race, gender or body type). You can never worry about disease again and avoid danger on a daily basis. Crime rates have plummeted an astounding 99% since the implementation of surrogates, but that changes when FBI agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) and his partner Jennifer Peters (Radha Mitchell) are called in to investigate the first homicide in years. Someone has built a weapon that can liquefy the brains of a user through their surrogate. Through a twist of fate, Tom survives an attack and must hunt the killer in a world where the only human on the streets is him.
SURROGATES has a concept that’s brimming with potential and seems incredibly relevant in the social media age. When people are more comfortable chatting as cartoon avatars or vicariously living through a celebrity’s live feed, then this film holds some truth. The social commentary sprinkled throughout SURROGATES is far from subtle, but it does remain interesting. This includes Tom’s wife, Maggie (Rosamund Pike), being all-out addicted to her surrogate to avoid a tragic reality. However, ideas of military use, surrogates as tools, murder being involved in surrogates and anti-surrogate protesters are all briefly glanced over in a shallow way. Even Maggie’s sad storyline seems a bit sidelined in the later proceedings.
The more interesting pieces of SURROGATE’s plot are placed in the backseat to make way for a rather clichéd murder-conspiracy thriller. The problem with this is that it’s predictable and feels formulaic. The 89-minute running also makes it seem like this movie wants to end as fast as it possibly can, character development and deeper meanings be damned. Taken as it is, SURROGATES is serviceable enough entertainment. However, there’s never any time for the viewer to adjust to a new plot twist or ponder a new clue that Greer discovers. This lazy script immediately spoonfeeds the audience everything. This is especially mind-boggling because the very premise of SURROGATES seems like it would provide food for thought.
As Tom Greer, Bruce Willis looks very bored. It’s almost like he realized how much of a missed opportunity this entire endeavor was and then proceeded to phone it in. Bored Willis is entertaining in a few ways, but it doesn’t feel like he’s putting much effort into his performance at all. Radha Mitchell is okay enough as Agent Peters, but it feels like some of her character’s scenes were deleted. At least, this is the impression I got from the inclusion of her non-surrogate moments that seem to have no rhyme or reason to exist. Rosamund Pike is solid as Greer’s grief-stricken, surrogate-addicted wife and easily gives the best performance of the cast.
James Cromwell makes a welcomed presence as the inventor of surrogates, but his screen time is limited to say the least. It’s almost like they brought Cromwell on for a single day of shooting and then quickly ushered him away from the set. Ving Rhames is entertaining in just about every film he’s starred in and that remains the case here. As anti-surrogate leader The Prophet, Rhames is allowed some room to ham it up and be menacing. Much like Cromwell’s scientist though, it feels like there’s just too little of him.
SURROGATES is like the feature-length version of an okay TWILIGHT ZONE episode. The effects and production values look good, as they should with an 80-million-dollar price tag attached to them. Intricacies in this android-filled world are briefly touched upon and then fast forgotten, while there is one decent deeper subplot in this film. The action is fun and the half-assed thriller script is entertaining for what it is. If this is on cable or you’re out of film choices, then I’d say give SURROGATES a watch. It’s an 89-minute time killer that will keep your attention, but leave you wondering how much better this might have been with a smarter screenplay behind it. Overall, SURROGATES is okay…when it could have been great.