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Let's wax psychological. Surrogates, a derivatively spiffy sci-fi comic book adaptation, was negatively critiqued by a lot of people, with the script's lack of depth as a prime source of the scourge. A large segment of the public, not excluding most critics, think that comic book adaptations lack cinematic depth anyway. The film's advertising and promotion didn't cite the comic origin much, so could that have worked against it? Assuming viewer bias, would it be looked at as a more intelligent feature if it were promoted solely as a comic book movie? Or should it actually have had a better script? It's probably going to be the script thing.
Surrogates begins as most high-concept science fiction films do: with a time-interval montage introducing the concept, which in this case is "surrogacy." Dr. Lionel Canter (James Cromwell) invented the technology for humans to live in the outside world as customizable robotic counterparts, free from pain, rape, death, and other negative aspects of modern societal living, all from the comfort of their own homes. It's said in those first few minutes that 98% of the world's population has a surrogate, which is pretty early for such a glaring impossibility. I mean, unless homeless and third-world genocides was one of those things that happened between now and the advent of surrogacy. The film takes place in 2017, whereas the comic was set in 2054, so that doesn't give us much time to prepare! Oh wait, it's just a movie (Twilight Zone theme).
FBI agent Tom Greer (a smile-less Bruce Willis) and wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike) are in a lifeless marriage that has suffered due to the early death of their son, as well as the wide-range advocacy of surrogates and the subsequent disconnect between humans on an emotional level. Maggie is all about her surrogate, keeping up appearances and trading gossip at the futuristic salon where she works. Therefore, Tom throws himself that much more into his cop work. There are still crimes, but the lack of physical harm keeps things light and frothy. That is, until a certain surrogate gets blasted with an innovative new weapon, one that zaps the circuits of both the mechanical and the human brains, instantly killing the user. The victim of this particular attack was none other than Jarod Canter, son of Lionel. Dr. Canter is heartbroken, and tasks Greer with finding his son's killer, which Greer takes on with partner Jennifer Peters (Radha Mitchell).
After some police surrogates get weapon-X'd, Greer and Peters follow their leads to the Dreads, a vaguely primitive group of rebels who refuse to give in to surrogacy because of its inhumane nature. The outspoken leader of these ragtags is The Prophet (Ving Rhames), a soapbox activist who has as many dreadlocks as banally obvious things to preach about how human being human is. Rob Zombie told us that in the '90s, and with a similar haircut. I assume the Dreads stick to their own turf no as not to get marauded by guilt-free androids. Greer waltzes past their boundaries in pursuit of his suspect, and gets his surrogate put on permanent AWOL. The rest of the movie revolves around the readjusting human Greer prancing around the city as the only thing breathing, trying to figure out the wipeout weapon's origin, as well as steer himself through a cast of characters whose identities aren't always what they seem.
Surrogates is filled with pros and cons. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I'm convinced some of that is because of my silent ponderings of the movie's philosophical themes, and not necessarily because of what was happening onscreen at the time. The "human vs. humanoid" aspect was well-balanced, though not fleshed out very much. In fact, nothing was. So much of the film serves its own purpose (as in explanations for every foreign concept, and all the surrogate-switching) that the characters themselves are cookie-cut and sprinkled with universal traits. Willis and Pike are above-average in their roles and their couple's plot progression. There's something genuine to be felt there, but the same can't really be said for Cromwell and the Canter family. Nor for Agent Peters. The Prophet is sort of cool, but mostly in concept rather than practice. The film reminded me of Total Recall in its lack of realistic dialogue.
Jonathan Mostow did a fine job in his direction. I can't really say anything negative about the look of the film, although I can criticize him and the writers for putting a scene in a flashy dance club. How come every movie set in the future has to have one of these scenes where everybody has on glow-in-the-dark paint and a ridiculously accessorized wardrobe? At least there was a chaotic element to this and most other scenes where only surrogates are seen. A Polar Express creep-vibe is ever-present, particularly in a scene where Greer "tries on" a new surrogate in a store; the temp model is a bronzed Ken doll with a face smoother than a grandfather clock. He may visit me in my nightmares. The action sequences, even when not needed, are well done, hitting a couple of suspenseful highs as Greer drives recklessly through vehicle-filled streets without fear of human casualties. So kudos to Mostow, but not to writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris, though this definitely ranks high on their resume.
I guess the promotional staff was out in surrogate night clubs instead of putting together material for this DVD, because what's here is pretty dismal. I guess they're trying to make people buy the Blu-ray. The only real thing here is a commentary from director Jonathan Mostow, which was a better listen than I expected. You get a sense that the guy is very impressed with his own movie, but it doesn't come across as conceited. He just really likes the material, and for that he's got it right, because the material is worth hours of thought-time. And I'd watch a Mostow-directed talkie about what it means to be human. He seems quite intelligent and will no doubt have a stronger decade than he has in the past. Aside from this commentary, there is a video from Breaking Benjamin entitled "I Will Not Bow." If there's a pop-rock radio station around you, they've probably played the shit out of this song, because it's that generic. The video doesn't do the song any justice. I wonder if the real Breaking Benjamin are rocking while these guys do the video. Oh yeah, they were real; it's only a movie!
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