By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
I suffer from misoneism…a highfalutin term for fear of the future. Well, actually I don’t. It just seemed a good way to get right at the nub of director Jonathan Mostow’s “Surrogates.” Truth is, most of us are misoneists to some extent or another. Which is why we are scared by—but nonetheless drawn to—sci-fi sagas set in a foreboding future.
If the writer wants to amplify the cautionary quotient of his tale, he sets the future darn close…in this case 2017. That gives us scant less than eight years to prepare for a world where anybody who’s anybody—or maybe nobody in particular—has his robotic surrogate out and about doing his bidding while he controls the action from home.
Tut-tut. Don’t say it can’t come to pass. Our text-crazed youth are already showing a proclivity for it, if not standing at the very precipice of a disquieting genesis. Witness two pals sitting opposite each other at a table. Each is texting someone else. The question is, would they be texting each other if seated across from the person they were texting?
One cultural pundit opines it’s an increasing aversion to making eye contact. You know, the whole window-to-the-soul thing. Take this unfortunate bit of social evolution, hook it up with the next few technological advances perfected at Virtual Self Industries (VSI), and voila, there’s your brave new world. Everyone is masked. It’s always Mardi Gras.
Only it isn’t. Cowardly new world is more like it. March out the aphorisms concerning deceit, being true to thine own self, etc., etc. And don’t forget “Oh what a tangled web we weave…” Still, it’s all the rage. Everyone’s doing it. Even Bruce Willis’s FBI agent Tom Greer. Though, we get the feeling he’s really not into it.
The notion is confirmed when he’s assigned the first murder case in recent memory. Gosh, it had become a thing of the past. Even if one did want to rub out another, your only recourse would be to have your robot croak the perceived enemy’s robot. Meanwhile, both humans would be creepily but safely ensconced in their stim chairs.
However, because of what you’ll have to figure out, someone or thing has breached that obviously gauzy fortress and killed a real live being. Greer is on the case. But then, that age-old cliché is instituted, the one that first deters and then spurs to greater action our more heroic movie cops. He’ll have to handle this one himself, literally.
Yep, no more vicarious thrills for this guy, mom! It just never seemed right anyway. Especially at home, where a long festering domestic problem might have already been resolved were it not for the electronic distancing caused by surrogates. Hence, up out of the chair, he is the naked ape renewed, challenged to solve the case, mano-a-mano.
While the cat ‘n’ mouse aspect isn’t novel in and of itself, the high tech scenario lends an intriguing patina to the suspense. This is meant to be farfetched. And doubtless it’ll be a while before we graduate from that little round vacuum cleaner robot to full-fledged surrogate use. But the metaphor of anonymity and isolation rings frighteningly true.
The art direction and delivery support the alert. Adapting the graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele, screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Brancato follow an important rule of thumb for making science fiction truly captivating. As long as there is imaginative consistency within the fictitious world created, no premise is too fantastic.
Too bad the action end of this whodunit doesn’t match up to the cutting edge concept. Save for a few very dangerous weapons being brandished by supposed humans and/or automatons, the rough and tumble aspect is the same old, same old. Yet happily, despite Mr. Willis’s umpteenth appearance in the stereotype, his charm time-travels well.
The physical difference between the real Tom and his surrogate provides a telling peek into the protagonist’s no nonsense persona. While it’s difficult to decide who more to applaud—the makeup crew or the CGI techs? —we’ve no doubt Willis is in there somewhere, certainly deserving of credit for the latest word in dual characterization.
Also worthy of praise is Rosamund Pike as both Maggie, Tom’s despondent wife behind the curtain, and her mannequin-perfect alter ego. Ditto for Radha Mitchell as G-Woman Peters. But watch out for a twist. You can’t tell the real people from the surrogates without a scorecard. Criminals will love how identity theft is taken to a whole new level.
Surely more than one displeased critic has suggested that you shouldn’t even send your surrogate to see this movie. Preferring to avoid such drollery, mainly because I didn’t think of it first, but secondly because the film does have its infatuating qualities, the advice here is have your robot fetch “Surrogates” when it becomes available on DVD.
“Surrogates,” rated PG-13, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Jonathan Mostow and stars Bruce Willis, Rosamund Pike and Radha Mitchell. Running time: 88 minutes
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