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2 reviews, 9 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Do Androids Dream Of Better Movies?"
1 stars

Back in my carefree college days--well, reasonably carefree--the widely anticipated director’s cut of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”--complete with the bleak ending and no intrusive narration--was hitting theaters and I got a bunch of friends, colleagues and hangers-on to come out with me to brave the opening night crowds in order to see it in its full big-screen glory. Of course, due to the somewhat imperfect grasp of time possessed by some of them, we wound up getting there late (as I recall, we found one girl near the head of the line who had gotten there on time and shoved about $100 in her hands to buy our tickets) and were forced to scatter in order to find seats. I wound up sitting next to one classmate who, as it turned out, had never seen “Blade Runner” before. Unfortunately, “Blade Runner” is a film that is somewhat oblique under the best of circumstances and if you are trying to watch it for the first time without the much-maligned narration that did, after all, explain a good deal of what was going on at any given time, there is a very good chance that you could wind up being confused and baffled by the entire thing. That is precisely what happened with my classmate and to make matters worse, her preferred method of expressing said confusion was to nudge me every few minutes to ask (in her Rosie Perez-esque voice) some variation of the question “Is he a robot?” throughout the entire thing while those sitting behind us were not-so-quietly giggling at my attempts to explain what was going on to her.

Of course, seeing as how this is supposed to be a review of “Surrogates,” the new Bruce Willis sci-fi thriller, some of you may be wondering why I am wasting everyone’s time by writing about something that has nothing to do with the ostensible subject at hand. Well, I bring this up to underline the fact that as annoying and aggravating as that experience was (and no, I was not dating this person), it still made for a less excruciating and more coherent night at the movies than “Surrogates.” Even though all the warning signs suggesting that this film was a dog have been up for a while--it didn’t screen for critics until the very last second, it clocks in at under 90 minutes and one of the heads of the studio that produced it was fired from his job a week before it opened--they hardly begin to suggest what a complete and utter mess this thing is. Imagine “Gamer” without the lucid plot and the designer nihilism but with the inscrutable storyline, nonexistent direction and somnambulant performances and you have this film in all its hacky non-glory.

Set in the not-do-distant future, society as we know it has become dominated by “surrogates”--hi-tech robots that are controlled by users who prefer to stay locked up in their homes and let their ultra-chic doppelgangers live their public lives for them. As the film opens, two of these surrogates are fried by an attacker wielding some kind of flash gun that causes the circuitry in their heads to fry up and explode. However, when FBI agents Greer (Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell) arrive on the scene to investigate, they discover that the blast also killed the two flesh-and-blood people controlling the robots as well. Since such a thing isn’t supposed to happen under normal circumstances, it seems that the two are the first genuine homicide victims to turn up in a long time--in this world, introducing super-strong robots into the mix has somehow lessened the crime rate--the two investigators begin to look into what the weapon is, who made it and for what purpose. Among those whose paths they cross in the course of their sleuthing is an angry pro-human activist (Ving Rhames) who leads a city of technophobes while preaching revolution against the machines, Canter (James Cromwell), the man who invented surrogates and who was forced out of his very own company over some philosophical differences and. . .well, that is actually pretty much it in regards to the suspect list unless you count Greer’s wife (Rosamund Pike), who now spends all her time in her machine world to avoid the dealing with the tragedies of her actual existence.

“Surrogates” is such an indecipherable mess that it is hard to know where to begin listing its failings. Okay, for starters, there is the fact that there isn’t a single original moment on display in the entire shabby enterprise--while similarities to such recent hits as “G.I. Joe” (a brief but wild chase scene) and “District 9” (the hunt for a mysterious weapon with untold powers) can obviously be written off as mere coincidence, the wholesale borrowing of ideas from films ranging from “Westworld” to “A.I.” to “Escape from L.A.” cannot be done quite as easily. Then there is the fact that there is never a moment when it seems as if the film knows what kind of story it wants to tell--at various times, it tries to be a noir-influenced mystery, a flat-out action thriller, a savage bit of social satire and a mind-bending sci-fi odyssey but every time it takes up one of those approaches, it quickly abandons it without hesitation. There is the fact that the usually reliable director Jonathan Mostow (who did the gripping sleeper “Breakdown” and the better-than-they-had-to-be “U-571” and “Terminator 3”) has put the entire thing together in the most pedestrian manner possible--at times, it feels as if he spent most of his time lying in bed at home and letting his own imperfectly functioning robot execute most of his directorial duties. That would certainly explain what must be the most listless and uninteresting performance that Bruce Willis has ever turned in--outside of the incredibly ludicrous hairpiece he wears in his robotic form, he sleepwalks so thoroughly throughout the proceedings that you can almost catch him snoring once or twice. Most importantly, the film never manages to explain its premise in a satisfactory manner--we never understand why people would want surrogates in the first place, why the presence of super-strong robots able to indulge in consequence-free behavior would result in a lower crime rate, what happens when two surrogates try to get their freak on or how society works with them walking around all the time. Perhaps these questions were answered to some extent in the graphic novel that “Surrogates” was based on but since I don’t plan on exactly breaking my neck to investigate this anytime soon, I will leave that for you to discover on your own.

Though not exactly original, the premise behind “Surrogates” isn’t necessarily a bad one and in the hands of the right people, I can see it working as a trippy bit of sci-fi weirdness exploring the irony of man constantly inventing new forms of communication technology that only wind up driving people apart even further. For all I know, that was the idea that inspired people like Willis and Mostow, neither of whom is a dope by any means, to sign on in the first place. However, something clearly went wrong early on and instead of trying to solve those basic fundamental problems, the decision was made to instead fill it with special effects, cut it to the bone and dump it in theaters in the hopes of scoring a few quick bucks before the poisonous word-of-mouth began to spread. Considering the weakness of this week’s other releases, they may well get a strong opening weekend for their troubles but viewers will get nothing more than frustration, irritation and the desire to own their own surrogates so that they can be sent off sit through garbage like “Surrogates” while they find better uses for their time, money and energy.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18395&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/25/09 00:28:44
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User Comments

1/24/13 bored mom So 98 percent of people have super wireless comms for bots but still need cell phones. WTF? 3 stars
9/22/12 roscoe similar to I-Robot, but not nearly as entertaining 2 stars
2/06/11 mr.mike "Battlefield: Earth" was better. 2 stars
2/08/10 KingNeutron Pretty standard plot - and predictable plot "twists" 3 stars
1/06/10 Klept Not a bad film, just nothing special, interesting ideas though 3 stars
10/22/09 Filmgoer Great film. Don´t believe negative reviews. 5 stars
10/10/09 The Grinch Another exercise in mediocrity from Jonathan Mostow. You're better off watching WALL-E 3 stars
9/29/09 DK Not so hot 2 stars
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  25-Sep-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 26-Jan-2010


  DVD: 26-Jan-2010

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