There is little worse than when a really inventive, interesting concept is made into a sub-par movie. After all, when you match a stupid premise with a stupid movie, it just seems like a natural fit. Hell, even a semi-ridiculous concept can be neatly tucked away by the drama and flare of a good movie, like Inception. But when it’s a unique plot with tons of potential that gets squandered by poor craftsmanship, a limited script, and lack-luster payoffs, the audience is left with less than a bad movie, they are left with a movie that could have been.
And for better or for worse, that’s what we find in Bruce Willis’ latest sci-fi feature Surrogates, a film all about when human beings decide that life is safer when you live it through an expensive metal toy…and takes it to the logical extreme of making those toys actually fully functioning robots.
Surrogates takes place in a world where humanity has replaced themselves with robots to live out daily life in the safety and comfort of their own homes. However, there is a fringe of society of people who believe that the robots are an abomination. These two factions clash when the son of one of the co-creators of the surrogates is murdered through an electrical weapon sending a surge through the robot. Bruce Willis plays…Bruce Willis v. 18.0 (like you’ll actually learn the character’s name) as he investigates a murder using electricity that destroys the robot and the user. Along the way he must learn to live again without his mechanic surrogate, and uncover a deeply imbedded conspiracy. Great concept, not a bad idea for a story…and yet…
Bruce Willis is the star of the film, and despite from cheesy, over-the-top lines, he pulls off pretty well. I doubt its one of the roles he’s going to be remembered for, but he does manage to pull it off with relative ease. The typical action movie role that calls for a rugged, slightly older action star, since the whole reason people use surrogates is because they don’t want to be seen outside, with all their imperfections. However, I also recognize that he lacks some emotional connection with his “wife” – he does act like he loves and cares about her, but they lost a son together, and the degree of separation between them because of it doesn’t feel real – she just seems immature, and he just seems “too old for this shit.” She doesn’t act like an adult, so much as a grown-up teenager, and Willis just feels a little overaged because of the youth and beauty he’s surrounded by.
What I will say is the aesthetic of the robots are perfect. At first glance, they look exactly like human beings, move like human beings but the more you look at them, you see the plastic in the cheeks, the stiffness and dryness in the hair, the somewhat dead stare in their eyes. They are us, just not exactly like us. You can tell whose a robot by just how perfect they look. The mechanisms inside are well made and interesting and the actors can really work the slightly-pop-and-lock movements, which isn’t as easy as it looks. Though I’ll be honest, it’s gets a little too obvious at some points and just look hilariously cheesy.
One of the redeeming factor of this film is the villain. Spoilers, and all, but the villain is the co-founder whose son dies in the beginning. He believes that the surrogates are unnatural and are an addicted to them. Ergo, everyone needs to die. …okay well its a little extreme, but you get the idea. He wants humanity to basically de-evolve and go back to being human, rather than living through their technology again, and that people need to be scared enough to just stop, so the murder of thousands upon thousands of people is basically totally justified. However, Willis figures out he can permanently shut down all the units functioning by sending them a virus…and yet the guy didn’t think this might be a better option? After all, you could just keep making viruses, or sue the corporation over the rights to the robot tech/patents to stall for a few years? And even then, after all, it’s nearly impossible to stop the flow of evolution. And yes, robot abuse is rampant, so set limits – specific time limits, only for work, limited features, etc.
The issue is that robots do more good than harm – there’s no loss of human life and war, everyone can be any gender or race they want, they can look how they want which ends bulimia and anorexia, and there is a place where people who don’t want to be robots can live. There’s no threat of a robot take-over at all. It’s not a perfect society but it better than the one we have now and that’s mainly BECAUSE OF THE ROBOTS. After all, a lot less people die, and I’m sure a lot less people are born too – how does getting rid of robots make things better again? That’s what I thought.
The cinematography is good – great use of bright colors for the outside and dark shades for real life, the mechanic of the robots, and the lay out of the sets work well to create a very full, developed, futuristic world. I will say it looks like some studio filled this movie with money, which is great in terms of how it looks. And hey, they must have used lots of make-up to make the actors look old, scarred and then perfect and plastic-y. Though…the realism is a little too…good?
Overall, Surrogates has a great concept but only mediocre execution, and despite a big budget and lots of technical excellence it ends up being a little lackluster. Hopefully there will be a sci-fi movie that can take this concept and really work on making it more fleshed out and interesting. That being said, this movie could have also been a lot worse and the effort that shows is valiant. If you’re bored and nothing else is on TV or you wanted a good rental, this is definitely be in the running to watch.