! = recommended
* = all-ages
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Surrogates opened in Seattle today, Friday September 25th and is playing at the Metro and Meridian 16.
The background is set up for you in the opening credits: Surrogates were originally intended as a way for disabled people to experience everything they can’t within their own body – but quickly became a means for everyone to live out their fantasy life instead, sending their “Surrey” to work, errands, naked dance parties, etc. from the comfort of their own home.
There is, of course, some resistance to this idea, in the form of religious fanatics who refuse to use the Surrogates, set up Reservations called Dreads and follow “The Prophet” (Ving Rhames with a very impressive head full of dreadlocks, which I choose to believe is the inspiration for the Reservations being named as such). Despite the constant threat of this Human Coalition causing a revolution, everything is bliss because Surrogates mean crime rates have dropped to an almost nonexistent rate, and human operators are safe from pain and fear of dying, since any damage done to their robot counterpart doesn’t harm them…or you know, until two end up dead because the circuits on their robot selves are completely fried, which apparently liquidates human brains.
Enter FBI Agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell), or rather, their perfectly-coiffed, designer-suited Surrogates, to investigate. Seeking out the human operators, they discover the hot blonde chick making out with the college boy was actually…a large male who likes to wear dresses and makeup (insert laughter here!), and oh yeah, he’s dead. That’s when they find out that the other murdered ‘bot is the son of the INVENTOR of this whole business, Lionel Canter (James Cromwell) – and oh yeah, the son is dead too. Mystified by how the humans have been murdered, they scan video from the Surrogate’s last memories and see a weapon that’s presumably responsible – and that’s when the action starts. Kind of.
After talking to Canter and finding out that he was actually the intended target (Father & Son share the same GQ Model-esque male Surrogate as some sort of bizarre bonding ritual), further investigation leads them to a “Meatbag” - the slang term for humans that don’t use Surrogates - which Greer follows into a Dread Reservation via helicopter. This results in his attempted murder via the mysterious weapon, a fiery crash, and some religious zealots deactivating his Surrey by shooting him in the head, which means we get to see what he really looks like.
Thus, my first major beef with the film: Greer as a human looks just like…regular old Bruce Willis. Whereas when we get to see Peters for exactly 2 minutes, she looks like Radha Mitchell with tons of bad age makeup, blemishes, dark circles, and stringy, unwashed hair. Ditto with FBI Boss Stone (Boris Kodjoe), Canter, and especially Greer's wife (Rosamund Pike, who is sadly, almost completey wasted here) – all look very, very bad. Weird that Willis, wouldn’t, right? I mean, basically he looks like an beardy John McClane:
Then we enter the boring discovery of Greer’s home life: his wife’s retreat and over-reliance to her Surrogate that was spurred by the death of their son, and his dissatisfaction with her choice. "I feel like we never spend time together anymore..." Duh duh DUH! Here comes the cliché and obvious moral: Reliance on technology is causing us all to lose our humanity! We’re losing touch with ourselves and our relationships! It's an addiction!!!! SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. Didn’t see that one coming, did ya? Oh, wait.
Despite that and many other flaws—including a joke comparing a Surrogate to a rental car, and getting high by “jacking” with electricity—I was kind of getting into it until Peters’ Surrey gets hijacked and starts doing crazy Ninja stuff (I was almost expecting her to turn her arm into a sword a la the T-1000 and punch through the roof of Greer's car), entering the second and FINAL action scene of the movie. Yup, that’s right. There’s a whopping two action sequences in this entire film. The rest is spent focusing on Greer’s internal struggle, and lots of paperwork investigation…what’s that? Paperwork? Oh yes, this brings me to yet another problem.
Humankind now has all this amazing robot technology, including the ability to suspend operation of the Surrogates from a giant master control room (which the stereotyped computer geek has to do when two male Surreys are about to rape a human female – what’s that about no crime again?) – but uh. The FBI still keeps documents printed out in hard copy file folders, and Greer grabs private files from his boss’s computer that are protected by a retinal scan using a USB thumb drive. Isn’t this a Sci-Fi movie? How do you people expect me to suspend my disbelief?
Then somewhere in the super-boring part, they add a cliché twist to the already cliché plot, and if you give it even a tiny bit of thought, an ending you can spot within the first 15 minutes. I went into Surrogates expecting a nice, entertaining, action-laden Sci-Fi thriller…and I walked out entirely disappointed. My recommendation: skip this thing and read the comic books instead.