Willis’s new flick fails as a thriller ‘surrogate’

By Kate MacDonald

surrogatestouchstoneImagine a world in which no one gets sick or hurt, where crime is non-existent and discrimination is a thing of the past. Everyone is attractive, has a perfect body – far and wide, everyone gets along flawlessly with others. Wars are still fought, but no soldiers die.

This utopia, set in Boston, provides the backdrop for Jonathan Mostow’s latest sci-fi action flick, “Surrogates.” The director, known for his work on “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” adapted the storyline from the five-issue comic book series of the same name, written by Robert Venditti.

In “Surrogates,” the audience is plunged into the futuristic world of 2017, which, through the use of robots widely referred to as surrogates, widespread peace and harmony seems to have at last been attained. The human operators of surrogates have a rigid life that consists of waking up, eating food and plugging in to a high-tech machine by which they control human-like robots using brain waves from the comfort of their very own beds. But as surrogates, life holds limitless possibilities and experiences.

Bruce Willis stars as FBI agent Tom Greer who, with the help of his partner Agent Peters (Radha Mitchell), is charged with saving the surrogate way of life from being destroyed by a mysterious antagonist, destroying not only the surrogates, but also their human counterparts as well. The explanation of how this occurs is shoddy at best, with a surrogate engineer exclaiming, “Kablooey!” when telling Greer that the bots’ software is being fried by an unknown weapon.

When the man who created the surrogates loses his son to the surreptitious villain, Greer and company are sent into a tailspin not only in their professional lives, but within personal relationships. With members of his own agency, the military, and a small regular human contingent working against him, Greer must not only fight to save his marriage, but the fate of surrogates and humans alike.

Many plot devices and situations in “Surrogates” seem to be taken directly from other popular futuristic flicks, such as “Minority Report” and “The Matrix.” However, there are astounding similarities to 2004’s “I, Robot,” as well, right down to the techno-phobic cop’s personality. The themes of technology ruining humanity, of conspiracy theories that involve both big business and hidden military agendas are commonplace to the genre, but Mostow’s film brings relatively nothing new to the sci-fi genre as a whole.

That being said, there are many high points to the movie. Willis, having honed his acting chops in many ’90s action thrillers such as “Die Hard” and “Pulp Fiction,” shows his versatility as an actor, virtually playing two roles – that of a toupeed, emotionless surrogate, and conversely, a bald, scared cop on the verge of divorce.

The cinematography of “Surrogates” is advanced, with impressive, multi-angled action shots that capture the thrill of helicopter and car chases from both air and eye level. Great shots of the city of Boston are also on display, bringing the audience to a familiar city (thankfully) not riddled with futuristic buildings or vehicles. The only notable exception is that half of Dorchester, where the technology-hating human contingency survives, looks like a war-ravaged slum, while the other half is extremely luscious, with grasses, trees and other scenic features, which are blatantly supposed to show the differences between those with technology in Boston and those in touch with their natural roots.

There are, of course, amazing special effects showing the technology present in this 2017 setting. However, even they can’t save “Surrogates” from its flaws. Because almost all of the individuals were robots, the film inherently cannot delve far into the depths of the main characters, which severely hinders its plot. This fact alone makes the dialogue, which is corny and outdated at times, stiff and hard to follow. Though a big plot twist provides entertainment, various plot holes and inconsistencies leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

Perhaps Mostow’s action would have been better received if its obvious message had been further developed: that the human race is doomed if we depend on technology in all aspects of our lives. Because of constant scene changes that occur without apparent plausibility and the many questions the audience is left with at the end of the movie, this message is ambiguous. What is clear by the time the credits roll at the end of “Surrogates” is that some of the lines from the movie are relevant. The film closes with the line, “It appears, at least for now, we are on our own.” “Surrogates” is a movie best left alone.

Kate MacDonald can be reached at [email protected].