Surrogates (2009)

Actors: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Ving Rhames, James Cromwell, Boris Kodjoe
Live Action, NTSC
Number of discs:
Touchstone Home Entertainment
DVD Release Date:
January 26, 2010
Run Time:
89 minutes



Movies 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 mechanical duplicates.

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 reality-by-proxy.

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 the truth.

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



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