Partly Cloudy in Not So Great Film Land

Movie Title: Surrogates (2009)
Spoilers: No


There was a day in 1987 that I will never forget. I was in 8th grade, heading into geography class. It promised to be just another day of not listening and getting punched in the shoulder by a bully twice my size. His name was David. He walked up like he was going to unload on me as usual. Then he stopped about 5 feet in front of me and looked down at a shelf. On that shelf was an issue of Omni magazine. It had a partially human face covered with electronic circuit boards and wires with one yellow robot eye. It said something like: “The year 2000 approaches.”

He didn’t hit me. I was so surprised. He just stood there and picked up the magazine in a very mellow mood. We were now both staring at it. He said to me: “Like I’m going to be part f*cking machine in the f*cking year 2000! Ha..ha..ha..ha! Yeah, right!” That exceedingly dumb look…I will never forget it. He just laughed, put the magazine down, and walked away. I laughed to reassure him of how funny I was supposed to think he was. Then I sat down and thanked my “f*cking” lucky stars for a bruise-free class period.

I give you that almost totally useless flashback to make the point that portrayals of technology leave such a big margin for error. Look at the pictures of concept cars you saw in the 1970s and 80s, the ones they said we’d all be driving today. Are we? We’re not only not part machine and not driving super-efficient high-tech cars of fantasy, but it’s fast approaching 2015 and those longed-for hover boards from Back to the Future II are nowhere close to being invented. I once believed I would live to see tables in every restaurant hover by the time I was an old man. That’s not going to happen.

Surrogates stars Bruce Willis as Tom Greer, an FBI agent in a reality similar to our own, but in a world where you go to work by proxy, as a robotic duplicate of yourself called a surrogate. You pull a 9 to 5 shift and then you head home and take control of your own body…or not. The world has gone crazy with surrogates now that everyone can afford one. But they are safer, and hey, no germs! Woohoo!

Well, my neurotic tendencies needn’t concern you. You’d never see them because in my surrogate body, I’d walk up to you looking 3 times better than Brad Pitt and you’d drop your cup of coffee. My chiseled face would make Peter Gallagher hide in the “f*cking” weeds! Sure, at home, my muscles would be atrophying due to non-use, but they’re already not far from that. Might as well stay in my surrogate body forever. All of us out-of-shape slobs who spend our days on inconsequential tasks like writing, eating Doritos, and sucking down Dr. Pepper by the 12-pack need surrogates real bad.

Screw uniqueness. Cram individuality where the sun don’t shine. In a world of diabetes, kidney failure, bad backs, and homely looks, you’re stupid if you would oppose surrogates. And think of how much easier on the eyes the general public would be? A trip to the grocery store would be like a gentle massage on the eyeballs. No crater-faced, leather-skinned, red-cheeked, frail, smoker a-holes with missing teeth and “track marks” on their arms, like the kind that occupy and stink up most apartment complexes with the stench of menthol cigarettes. So many hideously ugly human blood sacks…it should be like on National Geographic where we get in a boat and only have to see them when we need to study them.

Tom has a partner, Agent Peters (Radha Mitchell). I would say “attractive” partner, but close to everyone in Surrogates is attractive, so that would be meaningless. Without the action, the film would be like an extra-long episode of that cursedly superficial show The O.C. But Surrogates is not superficial. It opens in haste and races into the flow-thru of the plot. The retro blue-ish/black-ish look tries too hard, but the acting is the real problem, and so is the continuously flat and unrelentingly bad dialogue. Even Willis can’t win anyone over, nor can his surrogate. And I just can’t get used to the look of a Bruce Willis character with a Terminator-like Arnie jaw.

And speaking of Terminator, it was director Jonathan Mostow and writers Michael Ferris and John Brancato who were behind Surrogates’ creation, the same sad trio responsible for bringing to life Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation. If there was a god, he would not have allowed T3 or T4 to be made—so say all James Cameron-loyal Terminator fans. T3 and T4 were grievous abominations. They are likewise conclusive proof that no deity exists anywhere in the universe.

But Surrogates does provide something that more nearly makes up for it’s noticeable flaws—it provides a good measure of entertainment value. Car-leaping action scenes and a plot that proudly sprints into the nuts and bolts of a very creative and eyebrow-raising storyline will make Surrogates engaging viewing for many. There is a tremendously big plot-hole towards the end (email me if you don’t catch it.) And just remember to forgive instances of overzealous writing, like the statement that 98% of the earth’s population uses surrogates. Way to make a comeback, Ethiopia!

Hurting the film the most is its style of presentation, with its fire hydrant blast of sci-fi, but with no plot-twists or big cliffhanger moments, nothing to offer up the necessary peaks and valleys that would provide so much more pep. Look out anti-smoking lobbyists, cyber junkies, and anyone obsessed with using technology to obtain artificial beauty. Ooooooh, a movie with a message!

Just another partly cloudy day in Not So Great Film Land.



Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Summary: Set in a futuristic world where humans live in isolation and interact through surrogate robots, a cop (Willis) is forced to leave his home for the first time in years in order to investigate the murders of others’ surrogates.
Starring: Bruce Willis “Tom Greer,” Radha Mitchell “Peters,” Rosamund Pike “Maggie,” Boris Kodjoe “Stone,” James Francis Ginty “Canter,” James Cromwell “Older Canter,” Ving Rhames “The Prophet”
Genre: Action / Sci-Fi / Thriller