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"Surrogates" on DVD Leaves Lackluster Impressions

Updated on March 14, 2010

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I Wish I Could Care

Surrogates, the 2009 sci-fi film starring Bruce Willis, recently became available on DVD. Surrogates is set in a not-too-distant future America in which the majority of the population lives through personal robots called surrogates. A surrogate’s owner controls their robot remotely, and the surrogates can be design to look however the buyer wishes. Originally created in the hopes of creating a safer America, surrogate technology results in an image-driven, self-serving, and emotionally isolated culture.

Surrogate technology allows people to essentially do whatever they want through their robotic alter egos in perfect safety. A small number of people staunchly hold out on reservations where surrogacy is banned, but for the most part all feel satisfied with the new mode of living. No matter what may happen to a surrogate, its human user cannot be harmed.

Until now. An attack on two surrogates results in the simultaneous death of their owners, an unprecedented event. FBI agents Greer (Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell) investigate the case and soon find themselves delving into questions of ethics, quality of life, and humanity. Surrogates get illegally hijacked, and no one is who they appear to be.

I wanted to like this film. I appreciated the message that director Jonathan Mostow and his creative teamed were attempting to convey. Unfortunately, the moral got lost in muddle storytelling. At the end of the film I could string together which characters were doing what and their motivations -- but barely.

Surrogates is not a complete loss, however. Bruce Willis is brilliant in his role as Greer, who must abandon his surrogate and venture out into the world as his aged, imperfect self for the first time in decades. I rented Surrogates expecting to see typical Bruce Willis shoot-’em-up fare, but instead I discovered a sensitive man grappling with his own humanity, mortality, and an increasingly distant wife (also beautifully played, with actress Rosamund Pike filling the role), not to mention a superficial and emotionally void culture. Also, the make-up artists did wonderful work in allow the same actors to portray their human characters and corresponding surrogates to great effect.

Sadly, however, the lovely acting delivered by Willis and Pike is obscured by confusing plot twists and poor writing. Also, Ving Rhames as the anti-surrogate human anarchist, The Prophet, seemed an awkward fit, while James Cromwell in the role of conflicted surrogate technology inventor Canter is very reminiscent of his appearance in I, Robot. There are glimmering elements of solid film-making in Surrogates, but in the end it was not enough to make me care about the characters or the should-have-been provocative questions at the movie’s core.

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