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  Publicity Stills of
(Courtesy of BVI)

Human perfection. What could go wrong?

Director: Jonathan Mostow
Cast: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, James Francis Ginty, Boris Kodjoe, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames
RunTime: 1 hr 28 mins
Released By: BVI
Rating: PG (Violence)
Official Website: http://chooseyoursurrogate.com/

Opening Day: 1 October 2009


FBI agents (BRUCE WILLIS and RADHA MITCHELL) investigate the mysterious murder of a college student linked to the man who helped create a high-tech surrogate phenomenon that allows people to purchase unflawed robotic versions of themselves – fit, good looking remotely controlled machines that ultimately assume their life roles – enabling people to experience life vicariously from the comfort and safety of their own homes.  The murder spawns a quest for answers:  in a world of masks, who’s real and who can you trust? 

Movie Review:

Surrogacy is all about the great pretend- pretending to be more beautiful, more perfect, more desirable than who you really are. All you need to do is design your ideal self, then recline in your seat at home and use your mind to control your robot avatar. Imagine the possibilities- you may be shy, disfigured, disabled, or even disillusioned (say with your gender) and still be able to live vicariously through your duplicates.

Such a beguiling science-fiction conceit is at the heart of "Surrogates". Though based on the little-known graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele, it is no doubt inspired by the way people today are living their lives, increasingly dependent upon their computers and other electronic devices and projecting themselves into the world through them. But despite its nifty premise and prescient relevance, "Surrogates" is much less clever than it would seem.

Indeed, what appears to be an intelligent sci-fi thriller mixed with good ol’ Bruce Willis action is in fact a half-baked copy of other far superior films of the genre- its most direct equivalent "I, Robot", right down to casting James Cromwell as the creator of the technology inside. But where its peers have made good on their no-more superior ideas, "Surrogates" is content to wallow in its simplicity, turning what is a rich promising conceit to a one-note exploration of the human condition.

Yes, the human condition. If you believe "Surrogates", everyone rich or poor would soon hide behind their surrogate selves, creating a perfect world without crime, racism or bigotry. In other words, we would be living a lie. Besides the logical lapse of how everyone could afford what looks to be an expensive piece of equipment, there’s also the fallacy of assuming there’d be no human ills just as long as we are free of the constraints of our bodies. Isn’t the mind the root of all evil? And isn’t the mind apparently the control over one’s surrogates?

Were screenwriting duo John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris more imaginative, we’d be more willing to overlook these lapses. But no, it seems the only consequence they could envisage out of such a surrogate-inhabited world is denial. So instead of facing up to the truth of their son’s death, Bruce Willis’ Detective Greer’s wife simply plugs into her surrogate and buries her pain beneath her other self. Really? That’s the worst that could happen?

Squandered away are not just the possibilities that "Surrogates" doesn’t even delve into, but also the limited opportunities that it does flirt with. What about the "Dreads"- actual human beings who reject the idea of surrogacy and live on reservations on the outskirts of the city, their dreadlocked leader The Prophet (Ving Rhames)? Surely it’ll be interesting to see some sort of confrontation more than a street protest told over the TV news.

Or how about that near future populated by our robotic selves? Certainly besides the ability to customize our own robots, there must be some other forms of technology that mankind must have developed. Why then does the world in "Surrogates" look so uncannily like our world now- the cars, the shops and even the computers? Are we supposed to believe that almost every other technology was halted while surrogates were being developed?

But if "Surrogates" isn’t good science-fiction, it’s even worse as an action flick. Reuniting with his "T3: Rise of the Machines" screenwriters, director Johnathan Mostow doesn’t even match up to the serviceable standards of T3. Aside from one foot chase, action junkies will have to wait till the last 20 mins before the already-brief 88-min movie picks up its draggy feet. Even Bruce Willis' usual roguish charisma is absent from this mechanical affair, leaving only to admire how wonderful a job the makeup artists have done in making Willis appear 20 years younger with a blond toupe.

Like surrogacy, "Surrogates" is one great pretend- pretending to be smarter, more exciting and more promising than it really is. Imagine the possibilities that "Surrogates" could have been with its clever premise… and erase all that. This is one ho-hum thriller masquerading as intelligent sci-fi- ultimately a poor substitute for either.

Movie Rating:

(Interesting though its premise may be, "Surrogates'" inspiration seems to have ended right there)

Review by Gabriel Chong


. Babylon A.D. (2008)

. Eagle Eye (2008)

. Die Hard 4.0 (2007)

. The Island (2005)

. I, Robot (2004)

. Children of Men DVD (2007)

. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Blu-Ray (2003)

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