Cast: Tom Greer (Bruce Willis), Agent Peters (Radha Mitchell), Maggie (Rosamund Pike), Agent Stone (Boris Kodjoe), Canter (James Cromwell), The Prophet (Ving Rhames)
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Theatrical release: 09/25/2009 DVD Date: 01/26/2010
Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 89 minutes
Note(s): Based on the graphic novel The Surrogates by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele.
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Review: Set in an alternate reality present day, in which humans interact with each other via surrogates, robots that are controlled by the brain waves of their owners from the comfort and safety of their homes, the world is a peaceful, nearly utopian place. Violent crime is virtually non-existent. But then the seemingly impossible happens: a surrogate couple is destroyed, killing both its owners. Assigned to the case is FBI Agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis), whose investigation leads him to a cell of humans who live in surrogate-free camps, led by The Prophet (Ving Rhames). But in order to interrogate The Prophet, Greer must leave his own home and venture into the "real" world, something he hasn't done in years. He learns of a device, a weapon if you will, that can bypass the fail-safe mechanisms of the surrogates; if used against one, it can kill the owner. To his surprise, the device is made by the same company that created the surrogates. With the lives of billions of people at stake, Greer must not only find the device, but uncover who is using it to commit murder.
Viewed as a murder mystery, Surrogates works reasonably well -- a police procedural more than anything else. Though clearly set in a futuristic world, the science fiction elements are played down, as are the visual special effects, which serve to enhance the film rather than overwhelm it. If you're looking for an action thriller, this isn't it. (The few CGI action sequences that do appear, however, seem quite amateurish.) Unfortunately, the film gives away too much of the "whodunit" aspect so the plot centers more on allowing Greer to piece together the clues that will lead him to the killer.
Bruce Willis is terrific in his role here. It actually reminded me of his performance in The Sixth Sense, a somewhat vulnerable character played in a quiet, understated manner. Ving Rhames and James Cromwell, who plays the surrogates creator Canter, have fairly minor parts to play, but manage to bring some depth to their characters' relatively brief time on screen.
For the most part, all the other actors play as surrogates in an oddly compelling mechanical fashion, as one might expect robots to behave. Their skin is flawless, their bodies toned, their facial expressions limited, their body movements often stiff and, well, robotic. It's an interesting contrast to the flawed but expressive humans in the story, principally Greer (after he sheds his surrogate), The Prophet, and Canter.
At 89 minutes, the film is quite short, and though I'm usually of the opinion that films tend to be too long rather than too short, Surrogates could have really used some more time here. I would have spent it on further character development and maybe a little more background on the surrogate culture that would have, in the end, helped support the killer's motive.
Fans of Bruce Willis, of which I count myself, will definitely want to add Surrogates to their DVD or Blu-ray collection. It is certainly worth a second viewing, if only to take in some of the more subtle aspects of the story that may have been missed the first time through.