Monday, 26 October 2009


Director: Jonathan Mostow
Starring: Bruce Willis, Rosamund Pike, Ving Rhames
Writers: Michael Ferris, John D. Brancato
Released: 25th September

Surrogates has a premise that caught my attention, at least. Bruce Willis versus a world where everyone is actually robots and no one ever goes outside? Awesome, right? But Mostow doesn't seem to realise this, trying to spoon-feed us.

The film opens with a crude newsreel-style montage of how cheap, reliable robots were developed to allow people to live from the comfort oftheir own homes, and somehow wipe out racism and everything else bad in society ever? Excuse me? The film doesn't let go of the idea of living through surrogates - pretty much anyone watching this film is going to fee ltalked down to. Every advert seems to be for the sinister surrogates comany VSI, rubbish surrogate-related expository dialogue is shoehorned into conversation, and when we see the inside of VSI HQ, there are huge glowing adverts with pictures of impossibly sexy people with captions likre 'YOU, ONLY BETTER'. Oh, thanks Jonathan Mostow, because I hadn't realised that in the future, everyone is robots and the robots make everything better.

The first twenty minutes was one of the most disconcerting cinema experiences I've ever had. You don't see a single real person, but the make-up and CGI surrogates are extremely well-crafted - looking like people, but impossibly young and smooth and slighlty off. I don't know if this was intentional, but the acting is dead-eyed and emotionless, brilliantly showing us exactly what it would look like if all the parts wrre played by lifeless automatons. Both the cast's lack of expression and uncanny smoothness make Surrogates look like a live-action Polar Express.

All the weird surrogate stuff makes you appreciate the real actors a lot more - when I first saw Brucie's angry, bald, pockmarked head, complete with rubbish grey beard, I felt like cheering. When he gets bloody and urgent later on, there are echoes of Die Hard, but his Tom Greer is just plain dull. There's not a trace of John McClane's humour or charisma, leaving us with a cardboard cutout to root for.

It's only in the action scenes that we see what the film could have been. Jonathan 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' Mostow knows how to mess robots up, and shows us in a sequence where Willis chases the murder suspect into a surrogates-free zone. Walking away from a helicopter crash minus an arm, hit by a Jeep, Willis' surrogate just keeps on going, like Schwarzenegger in Terminator but, yknow, not evil. The surrogates can also jump over cars, punch through walls, etc, which makes for another cool chase scene later on in the film. Surrogates are used as weapons of war - we see a huge room, filled with soldiers plugged into surrogates somewhere in the Middle East. But Mostow skips over this idea, instead giving us a pedestrian conspiracy.

Anyone walking into this film is going to expect kickarse robot action, not cod-philosophy, especially with Willis starring. But, though there is action, there's not enough, and the talky scenes have zero sense of urgency. Surrogates seems to think of itself as a smart thriller, but what this means is mostly people spewing clunky, shamelessly plot-advancing dialogue in blue backlit rooms, with a score so forgettable it was barely worth it. Willis is on autopilot. Avoid.

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