like Surrogates rank among the most
heartbreaking because you can see how good they might have been.
A strong concept well-suited to its ensemble, providing
plenty of opportunities for push-button entertainment while endeavouring
to say something meaningful about the world we live in . . . it's all
there waiting to unfold. And yet somehow, it never does, transforming a
potentially great piece of sci-fi into another tired throwaway.
Certainly, the film's strengths have never felt
timelier. Its not-to-distant future posits a universe where everyone has
their own personal robot to act on their behalf. They can sit in their
BarcaLoungers and plug their consciousness into the "surrogate," then use
it to move safely into the outside world. The concept contains a number of
benefits. Disease drops to nothing, accidents are no longer fatal and
crime - particularly big-league crime such as murder - is basically a
thing of the past. The downside, of course, is that no one really
experiences anything anymore. We become a society of couch potatoes,
wasting away in empty apartments while living vicariously through our
Director Jonathan Mostow understands the fundamentals of
the equation, and his cast isn't afraid to play up the particulars to
their detriment. While the surrogates are all inhumanly beautiful, the
real people look like they slept in a ditch. They get vertigo when they go
outside and many of them can't bear to be looked at as they actually are.
A few hold-outs live in reservation-style communes - led by Ving Rhames's
burgeoning messiah - but the rest of us are happy to wither away beneath
The trouble comes once an actual plot kicks in. Someone
finds a way to kill people through their surrogates, prompting an
investigation from FBI Agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha
Mitchell). Willis is uniquely suited to this kind of role - happy to look
like crap if called for, but possessing a dogged determination to get to
Pity that his path entails a tired collection of Orwellian
conspiracy clich?, with evil corporations controlling our every move and
standard-issue whodunit twists replacing any genuine character
development. Mostow proves incapable of elevating the proceedings above
stereotype levels. Earth-shaking developments are reduced to simplistic
resolution, punctuated by a few vaguely interesting action sequences but
limiting its most potent concepts to the realm of the abstract.
The best parts can be found in the corners of our
vision, when Surrogates
gives us the time to do some exploring rather than shuttling us to the
next plot complication. There's a lot out there - especially considering
how close our own world is to this one - and as a passive intellectual
exercise, the film holds a few modest joys. A more thoughtful development
process might have done wonders.
As it stands, however, Surrogates works far better in
concept than execution, trusting in its basic ideas to gloss over a
mediocre and uninspiring delivery. The project deserved much better, a
fact which its quiet DVD release only compounds.
THE DISC: The DVD is as bare bones as they come,
with only the film itself, the director's audio commentary and a music
video on the disc. A few behind-the-scenes documentaries discussing how
the project came about and things like the make-up (with the same actors
playing both their beautiful surrogates and their doughy "real"
characters) could have let the project's best elements shine a little
brighter. Mostow's commentary may mitigate that situation somewhat, but
it's still awfully thin soup. The transfer is decent, but unremarkable.
WORTH IT? A rental may be called for it you're
mildly curious, but those looking for smart sci-fi - or even a film that
just blows things up really good - have a number of better options to
spend their money on.
RECOMMENDATION: Only for Bruce Willis
completionists and those few morbid souls who want to see if it's possible
for Rosamund Pike to look unattractive.
- Rob Vaux