10 October 2009

Movie Review: Surrogates


2009, 88mins, PG-13
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Writer (s): Michael Ferris, John. D. Brancato
Cast includes: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames
Release Date: 25th September 2009

“Surrogates” has an interesting agenda but is ultimately scuppered by lacklustre execution, director Jonathan Mostow largely failing in his attempt to make a blockbuster with ideas big enough to match the explosions. I admire the feature for actively seeking to brew up a smart message and clutch of conflicted characters but trying is never quite the same as doing, “Surrogates” struggling to convey its ambitious ideals from the get go.

Set in the year 2017 “Surrogates” imagines a world were pain and death are no longer prerequisites of life, humans now opting to live the majority of their days through robotic beings called Surrogates. People control their surrogates from the safety of home and anything that might befall a surrogate such as harm isn’t transferred to the human operator, meaning that life is now essentially risk free. However things change when several surrogates and their owners show up deceased, the cause of death the exact same in each case. Agent Greer (Bruce Willis) and Agent Peters (Radha Mitchell) are drafted in to help explain the troubling incident, but the deeper they investigate the more twisted and complex the situation becomes.

Bruce Willis is perfectly fine in “Surrogates” as are most of his co-stars. The movies big problems are its muddled screenplay and not entirely convincing moments of action, it’s hard to recommend a blockbuster that underwhelms in the realms of big screen chaos and digital excess. Redemption is nearly sought through the pictures reluctance to abandon its admittedly impressive morals and social commentary, yet even these finer aspects feel slightly wasted within “Surrogates” unconvincing script. Mostow is a director who on previous outings has displayed a competent knack for popcorn schlock but here his mainstream sensibility doesn’t fit particularly well with the aware and intelligently conceived central theme. As a result “Surrogates” suffers from an inherent imbalance and is unlikely to please anyone.

Willis plays it predictably worn and crotchety as Greer, though it would be remiss of me not to confess he walks paths like this with a commendable swagger and charisma. In many ways Willis fits nicely with the project, albeit he’s not quite good enough to start compensating for the larger faults. Having made it through four “Die Hard” films and a bunch of other action flicks Willis is a genre staple and a damn likable one at that, this a film ultimately unworthy of his presence. Radha Mitchell is another figure who could probably do better, having found a career slogging through recent B grade efforts like “Pitch Black” and “Silent Hill” it’s a little disheartening to see the actress stumble backward in terms of quality with “Surrogates”. I’ll admit that this is a more courageous picture than either of the aforementioned but it fails to carry out its aims with half the panache when placed in contrast. Rosamund Pike is weak as Greer’s conflicted wife though as the inventor of the cybernetic beings James Cromwell is as always a welcome addition to the cast list.

“Surrogates” culminates with a pointed and welcome cinematic lecture, one that really hits home and shows under more stable hands how rewarding a feature this might have been. It takes an intelligent idea and forms it into an unusually relevant blockbusting moral, yet still the feature leaves a sour taste in the mouth. The trite and unimpressive scripting is a likely candidate for the movies biggest flaw, the narrative an unsatisfying combination of the painstakingly obvious and overly familiar. Those with more than slight exposure to sci-fi flicks like “Minority Report” and “I, Robot” will find its mix of futuristic technology and old time detective work stale, whilst the tonal imbalance caused by constant lurching between subplots is likely to offend the audience’s attention. The movie means well by incorporating in concepts such as deceased children and depressed spouses but on the whole these skewer the sci-fi crime busting to an infuriating degree.

The cinematography is high quality though the CGI is unnervingly inconsistent, and good action is a little thin on the ground. A scene involving high speed pursuits and the use of a parking meter as a javelin is cool but overall I was shocked at just how forcefully Mostow overlooks the dynamic frenzy, especially when that’s the arena he’s obviously most comfortable in. The more thoughtful elements are all well and good but they’re not Mostow’s cinematic speciality, and as a result they’re emphasis over futuristic carnage is more of a handicap than anything else.

“Surrogates” at least deserves the label of noble failure, though that’s hardly a phrase for the diehard cineaste to live his life by. The movie means well and tries hard yet it never clicks the result a sporadically interesting but mostly empty addition to the sci-fi genre. Willis could be plying his trade to more memorable multiplex endeavours, “Surrogates” not cutting it as an example of worthwhile entertainment despite its earnest pursuit of such a goal.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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