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Back To The Future: Surrogates' thought-provoking subject matter self-destructs in 10, 9, 8... 

Surrogates' thought-provoking subject matter self-destructs in 10, 9, 8...

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The concept of Surrogates might sound good, after all it's based on a graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldel. Unfortunately, at the hands of the gang behind Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, it misfires, turning into a slow-paced, bland fiasco. This Disney fairy tale/sci-fi thriller plays out like an episode of Law and Order: Special Surrogates Unit - it's a glorified TV show without any redeeming qualities.

The opening provides background history through news footage: the crime rate is down dramatically now that everyone is living through robotic surrogate bodies. People seem to function with regular jobs and have non-stop fun with no apparent risk to their own bodies (beyond atrophy). Users at home operate sexy, physically perfect mechanical versions of themselves as they grow weak, feeble and unhealthy from dentist-chair-like recliners. That is until some craggy faced "meat bag" on a motorcycle yanks out a death ray and ices some surrogates, mysteriously killing their real users at home. This brings in surrogate FBI agents Greer and Peters (Bruce Willis, Rhada Mitchell) and a whole bunch of convoluted plot twists and turns. Apparently, things in a super-fake world just aren't as they seem. Agent Greer, forced to go solo, discovers a vast conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon. Abandoning his surrogate, he risks his life to unravel the mystery uncomfortably interacting with a city full of pretty mannequins.

Sadly, this flick is overly concerned with pseudo-political intrigue and rarely finds the satirical except in low-played humor, like the notion of "Extreme Football" played by surrogates and the fact that a human operator can pause his or her surrogate should things got too stressful. An unexplored issue is that there's a resistance movement of "regular" humans, led by the Prophet (Ving Rhames), living in beat-up trailers on human reservations. Case Closed.

Surrogates is a commentary on the way people today increasingly live on their computers, gizmos and other electronic devices while detaching from the real world around them, but this movie ignores the integrity of its audience. The metaphors are clear yet undeveloped. The film could've really taken off, but chose a non-committal mode. Despite all the corporate greed and political espionage this movie reveals, it focuses on the mumbo jumbo speech of a mad scientist (James Cromwell).

Director Jonathan Mostow (T-3/Breakdown/ U-571) is capable of suspenseful action flicks, but here he disappoints. The surface of the plot barely skimmed. This tone remains flaccid throughout poorly staged car chases and a drawn-out ending. The plot and action are as glossed over as the surrogate world it depicts.

Willis is usually better than most of his movies, but here he flounders alongside the flick. It does, however, get a boost by the Pulp Fiction reunion of Willis and Rhames. In their one brief scene, Rhames emotes with dreadlocks and fake beard while Bruce grimaces.

Surrogates strives to take a spot next to Blade Runner,5th Element, The Matrix and Robocop - not to mention the recent Gamer and District 9 - but severely lacks substance. Instead, it more resembles Michael Crichton's dud Looker (involving sinister surgery for perfect advertising models). This film left me feeling like the expression on Greer's surrogate: non committal and worked over from the inside out. The murders may have jolted the utopia in Surrogates, but the insipid filmmaking ruined around 88 minutes of my day.

Surrogates ★✩✩✩✩

Starring Bruce Willis, Rhada Mitchell, Ving Rhames, James Cromwell

Directed by Jonathan Mostow

Rated PG-13


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