Bruce Willis returns to familiar form as the grizzled, disenchanted cop in Jonathan Mostow’s suspense thriller “Surrogates”. Clocking in at a lean ninety minutes, Surrogates takes a different approach to the done-to-death avatar premise in science fiction. This time the avatar is a robot in the real world, operated by a human via gadget la-z-boy at home. The premise is summed up in literally five minutes by the opening montage. Brilliant scientist (James Cromwell) creates a robot, called a ‘surrogate’, for paraplegics to use in everyday life. Soon the technology advances so almost every human in the world can have their own surrogate at little cost. The result is a world where humans are safely plugged in at home, while the surrogate is out and about. Crime is eradicated and society settles into a quasi-utopia. But not everyone buys into surrogacy, a small band of humans (Dreads), live outside the surrogate world in specific zones. Led by The Prophet (Ving Rhames), they fear surrogates and see them as the downfall of humanity.
Surrogates has a few twists, so I’ll keep this review completely spoiler free. The big success here is the philosophy. In a world where Facebook, MySpace, and SecondLife is leading us like rats into a computerized existence, the surrogate theme is entirely believable and well executed. Fat people are slim in surrogacy. Ugly people are beautiful; men can be women, and so on. The world of surrogates is a completely fake one, where anonymity reigns and the villain can be one person, or many. So Mostow’s vision is realized and visually effective.
The problem with Surrogates is the pacing. It’s way too fast. The film never gives the audience time to absorb what’s happening. If you went to the bathroom for five minutes, you would probably miss a key plot point. The filmmakers overcompensated for our perceived attention deficit. There’s so much going on, so much meat on the bone, Surrogates could easily have been a two hour film. I can’t remember the last time I thought a film was too short, so they’ve definitely accomplished a rarity in that regard.
I did like the characters and their interaction. Willis’s character, Greer, is searching for the antagonist; but his real problem is the relationship with his wife (Rosamund Pike). Scarred by tragedy, the couple have retreated to surrogacy and are no longer able to deal with life in person. These scenes were brilliant, really well done. But as soon as we start to connect with these characters, cut to the next scene, insert action here.
Surrogates leaves you wanting more, but is entertaining for the short run time. I was not impressed by the trailers or advertising campaign, so the film is better than expected. I did not sniff out the antagonist in the first minute, so it is suspenseful. The action scenes are also well done, but don’t expect robot kung fu or gunplay a la The Matrix.