7 Oct 2009


By Stewart R & Matt C

Cast: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Writers: Michael Ferris & John Brancato
Runtime: 88 mins
Certificate: 12A
Release date: 25 September 2009

Matt C: I first became aware the graphic novel Surrogates when I passed by the Top Shelf stand at the Bristol Expo this year, and I was pleased to hear that a property from the publisher responsible for whole slew of indie delights over the last few years was finally getting some Hollywood action. I didn't even realise Bruce Willis was involved until a couple of months later, which had me scratching my head a bit: how did a comic book adaptation with that kind of star power escape my attention for so long?? I mean, I'm usually well on the ball with this kind of stuff. The lack of any advance reviews didn't inspire any confidence either, especially when it came to the day before release with barely any sign of opinions on the movie to be found all across the internet. That's usually a bad omen, right? Well yes, but the premise was still intriguing, playing on the way modern social interaction is increasingly reliant on technology, and Willis remains vastly underrated as an actor (he gets the right role, he knocks it out of the park!) so I figured I'd throw caution to the wind and give it a whirl.

Stewart R: An interesting intro sequence sets the scene nicely, sweeping a news reporter’s eye over the years of development and integration of the Surrogates - 'perfect' robotic facsimiles controlled by individual humans - into society, and summing up just what has lead to this point in a matter of minutes. This ensures that the audience is quite aware just how affected and dependant society has become by this technological advancement. Director Jonathan Mostow, he of Breakdown and Terminator 3 fame, seems to understand that the audience needs to get into the meat of this sci-fi detective story quickly and the sooner the background is set the better. Cue Willis as Tom Greer, middle-aged detective with good skin and great hair, investigating what is possibly the first homicide to have been committed in years.

Matt C: The problems began to manifest themselves quite early for me when we're informed that roughly 99% of the world's population now have Surrogates. What, so even the starving millions in Africa have Surrogates?! How does that work? Considering the impact that such advances would have on humanity, the world we're shown doesn't seem especially futuristic bar the appearance of some fancy cars. If you refrain from asking yourself such logical questions then the movie is somewhat absorbing... until, that is, it gets derailed by some unintentional comedy in the form of Ving Rhames. Portraying the leader of the anti-Surrogates movement, he looks utterly ludicrous with his big dreads and hippy threads. Maybe we're so used to seeing him in slaphead mode that any dramatic change in his appearance just jars too much, but whatever the reason, it was the turning point for me; the moment I realised what could have potentially been an adequate sci-fi thriller was about going to unravel into a mess of plot holes and inappropriate performances.

Stewart R: I’ll agree with Matt fully on the laughable premise of everyone in the world having access to Surrogates while an additional thought would be why, without the constraints of human biology, aren’t Surrogates being fired across town in giant vacuum tubes a-la Futurama rather than facing the tedium of sitting on trains and driving at regular speeds in cars? The lack of harm and danger is highlighted early on but it’s an avenue that’s simply not pursued. As for the acting: what can you say? Radha Mitchell, a promising actress who certainly holds lead potential, is criminally underused; her character is never explored leaving her as nothing more than a plot-vessel for the bizarre events unfolding before our eyes. James Cromwell is brought on board to do the job that he’s done a dozen times before and he actually comes across as almost resentful for the typecasting. I'm not quite sure what to make of Rosamund Pike's performance as Greer's grief and depression stricken wife as she plays the steely emotionless Surrogate side with a dazed facade, which certainly adds to the feel of the film but it's hard to tell whether it's done on purpose. Bruce Willis on the other hand can hold almost any picture together with his downtrodden everyman style of acting, and the breadth of his talent is actually shown here as he tries to deliver an emotionally driven performance. It's just a pity that he’s essentially trying to make a concrete plot float.

Matt C: There are a couple of sparks between Willis and Pike that suggest genuine emotion but it's not really a movie that strives for any substantial depth, and obviously the filmmakers were under the misapprehension that the premise (or ar least, the execution) was strong enough to carry the audience through the duration. Mostow does concoct some competent action sequences (with one looking like a leftover from Terminator 3) but there’s nothing to prevent it from being a rather forgettable experience. But, even though the plot holes continued to pop up with increasing regularity I couldn't even get really worked up to anything approaching hatred. I just left the cinema feeling that I would have been better off spending my money on the graphic novel. 4/10

Stewart R: The effects aside, which during the higher-paced action sequences do certainly come across as an entertaining Diet Terminator 3, this is a film that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. At 88 minutes this comes across as a big ‘Andre The Giant’ of an idea that’s struggling to squeeze itself into the size 10 runtime. I’m convinced that Mostow could barely move through his editing suite for the 40 minutes of film that must have been left piled upon the floor. Hopefully any extra footage will eventually reach an audience on DVD and suitably flesh out this film from the rather disappointing cinema outing that it currently is. With the Autumn movie season upon us I’m certain that there’s better efforts to spend you money on, but you may find a sarcastic laugh or two here, not least at Ving Rhames' mind bogglingly bizarre performance. 4/10


Anonymous said...

Your review mentions the concept of everyone in the world having 'surrogates' but I'm not sure what that actually is. I haven't seen any pre-publicity for this movie, so I'm pretty much in the dark what the technological advance is. A drug? An implant? A clone of yourself? What does it do?

- RN

Stewart R said...

It's a robotic clone of yourself which can allow you to feel everything a human does 'out there' in the real world but from the safety of your booth in your home.

Matt Clark said...

What he said! I've added a few words into the main text which will hopefully make it a little clearer.