Some films start out with bad buzz from the get-go and never seem to shake it, even as people actually see the film. The comments end up being “it’s not as bad as I thought it would be” or “ah, it’s okay”. Surrogates had this problem, and it’s because of the star: Bruce Willis. He’s an actor who has had what Hollywood types call a “checkered career”, with some great films (Die Hard, The Sixth Sense, Twelve Monkeys) and some bombs (Hudson Hawk, Hostage).
So here’s something that might surprise you: I really liked Surrogates and think it deserves a better box office take, though it has taken in $27 mil in two weeks, with the second week down 56%.
In the same vein as I, Robot and Minority Report, Surrogates posits a future where just about everyone has a robot surrogate that lets them stay home, safe in their Stim-Chairs, while the surrogate goes to work, parties, and can be attacked and even killed without the human adversely affected.
When things go awry in this future utopia and assassin Miles Strickland (Jack Noseworthy) uses a super-weapon to kill humans by attacking their surrogates, the FBI’s Surrogate Crimes Division gets the case, and Agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) is assigned lead investigator. Or, to be more precise, Greer’s “surrey”, as they’re called, is on the job. But how do you investigate a crime in a world where everyone’s safely at home and it’s robot surrogates you keep encountering?
I’ll be candid, Surrogates is not a great film, but it is an enjoyable sci-fi action thriller. If you like this genre, check it out while you can: I don’t expect it’ll last too long in the theater.
In this future world, the surrogates are all assembled by a single company, Virtual Self Incorporated (VSI), founded by robotics expert Dr. Lionel Canter (James Cromwell). Turns out that it’s his son who was killed in the beginning of the film, and the story then begins to unfold.
Not everyone is a fan of surrogates, however, and there’s a sizable enclave of humans who reject technology outright, led by “The Prophet” (Ving Rhames). They live in a surrogate-free region called the Human Coalition Reservation, though everyone refers to it as a “Dread Reservation”, presumably in reference to the Prophet’s dreadlocks.
FBI Agents Jennifer Peters and Tom Greer investigate a surrogate murder
When Greer and his FBI partner Jennifer Peters (Radha Mitchell) identify the assassin, the chase is on, during which five cop (surrogates) are killed by the same mysterious weapon and the pilot flying the helicopter Greer’s in is also shot, leaving him to crash in the depths of the Dread Reservation on the outskirts of Boston. His surrogate is killed and later crucified.
With his surrogate destroyed, it’s up to Greer to take the almost unthinkable step of continuing the investigation without a surrogate, even as he wanders through a world where he’s the only non-mechanical being.
There are a number of rather predictable revelations as the story unfolds, but it’s the details that I found most enjoyable, including the omnipresent Quick-Volt charging booths for surrogates and the FBI being able to both tap into any surrogates data stream for monitoring purposes and ability to issue Warrants of Disconnection that let them spontaneously shut down any surrogate committing a crime. There was also a very thought-provoking scene showing soldiers and warfare in an age of surrogates.
The acting is dry and emotionless, but since just about everyone on screen is supposed to be a surrogate it’s at least logical. Every time we do see a real human, they’re always exhausted, pale and sickly, and Greer’s wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike) has an array of prescription pills to keep her going.
Surrogates won’t go on a top ten science fiction movies list by any means, but with its solid production values, excellent sets, decent action scenes and intriguing storyline, it’s well worth a viewing. It’s also not the best sci-fi film Willis has starred in: both 12 Monkeys and The Fifth Element are both better, but my suggestion? Give Surrogates a chance and I think you might just find a worthwhile film.
I totally agree! I thoroughly enjoyed “Surrogates.” It’s a bummer about the bad buzz. Hopefully it will do well on DVD. It’s one I will most definitely watch again and again when it starts playing on television!