This was Johnathan Mostow’s first film in six years, and is based upon a fairly decent graphic novel. Yes, I have read it, and found it be an interesting examination of the conception of beauty and perception. The minimalist art was also quite striking and helped emphasize the theme that reality depends largely on perception. But I am not here to talk about the graphic novel (although you should check it out). I am talking about the film and how you should avoid it.
The film takes an interesting premise and turns it into science fiction film #35410001. It is formulaic nonsense that contains extreme lapses in logic. There were only two aspects of the film that I liked…but I much preferred the source material.
The film takes place in the not too distant future at a time in which most people own a surrogate. This is a device that is essentially a remote controlled robot – people can go out and live a full life without ever leaving their chair. The film opens with an attack against two surrogates that leads to the deaths of their operators. Bruce Willis (Bruce Willis….yes, his character has a different name but he is essentially playing Bruce Willis) and his partner are called in to investigate. It leads to the revealing of a grand anti surrogate conspiracy masterminded by Lionel Cantor (James Cromwell), creator of the technology, and a man known as The Prophet (Ving Rhames) whose followers view surrogates as an abomination.
I did say that there were two aspects of the film that I did like, so I will go ahead and explain that up front. The acting in the film is completely wooden, but there is a point behind it. All of the actors are robots – why not have their performance reflect that? Also, yes, there are quite a few standard action scenes in which property and the value of human life are ignored for the sake of crashes, but this may be the only film I have seen where such an attitude makes sense. Again, this is a society in which people are not truly real. It is good that the film reflects that.
It is bad that the film feels the need to become a traditional formulaic action film with such a premise. The film is an anemic 88 minutes long (including credits) thus the ideas that are presented are never really given any time for discussion. The relationship between Willis and his wife (Rosamund Pike) does not go anywhere, neither does the potential of children to have surrogates (as is discussed in the film). The most intellectually stimulating the film gets is during the credits. Also, the twist at the end doesn’t make much sense, the whole murder aspect feels hopelessly tacked on (and is – it was not present in the graphic novel), plus the character of The Prophet is changed far too dramatically to have any real impact; although Ving Rhames probably gives the best performance in the film.
What is left? Nothing. Cracked.com once did a comedy video in which they invited people to take a shot of alcohol every time they saw something that was borrowed from another science fiction film. I would never suggest trying that at home – it will likely cause alcohol poisoning over the span of the film. It is basically a combination of Minority Report and the film adaptation of I Robot. What is missing from this is the fact that the actors do not even really believe in it. Why would people use surrogates? What would be the ultimate goal? The social impact? Those former two films at least somewhat addressed this question. Surrogates never does. It concentrates on the action scenes, which I guess are well executed, but they never do anything that is remotely memorable. Besides, I am tired of car chases. Watching them, I only think of the phone calls to Liberty Mutual and Geico that must surely follow. Wanton destruction is unnecessary if it does not have a point. No action sequence does. And the point is not merely making large objects explode.
I only recommend the film to those who enjoy the smell of stale popcorn. That is what the film was made for – to cause some sort of diversion for an hour and a half and make money. Sad that the source material was reduced to this. I hope the people who write these novels are more careful in the future.