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Monday, 21 June 2010

Bruce Willis plays a (you guessed it) good cop in Surrogates (dir Jonathan Mostow, 2009), which is Robo Cop meets Stepford Wives with a little Terminator added for effect. As a good cop, he's dedicated to finding the criminal but it also means he must save humanity. No surprises there.

In this world, where people live their lives via robotic surrogates, people live inside their houses, reclining on "stem chairs", controlling their surrogates by computer link-up direct to their brains. There are still hold-outs, of course. The "Dreads" live in quarantined enclaves, one of which is headed by Ving Rhames. One "meatbag" named Miles Stickland who causes havoc early in the film, seeks refuge in the guarded territory but a surrogate controlled by Tom Greer - the Willis character - follows him there.

It's not Greer who finally does him in, however. It's the leader. But this cat turns out to be something different from what he appears, which is not surprising in a movie where peoples' surrogates are walking around the city, driving their cars, catching their trains, and dancing in dark and fuggy discos all night long.

It's outside a disco where the action starts, when Strickland uses a strange weapon to fry a pair of surrogates who are making out on the street. One turns out to be the surrogate of the son of Lionel Cantor, the scientist who invented surrogacy. But whereas most surrogates when destroyed leave the human unscathed, this time the young man is killed too. Greer's first job is to find the weapon, discover who made it, and get it back.

It's an impressive idea, but the film is definitely not without its quota of weak moments. The wooden, youthful faces of the surrogates recall The Stepford Wives, a bevy of perfect simulacra for human beings. Greer craves the human touch and tries to get his wife to relinquish her attachment to the robot that fronts for her in the real world. These scenes are creepy but also just a bit odd, as Greer tries to argue with his hidden wife, a woman still regretting the car accident that killed their son.

As for depth and meaningful messages, well, it's not hard to see where it's all heading. Sunshine, fresh air, baseball and walks in the park come to represent a real life in opposition to the synthetic cheapies offered by surrogacy. So when Greer is given the opportunity to fry all the robots, it's hardly a mental challenge to work out where the film is going to end up.

In short, it's a fairly interesting alternative version of the future based on some emerging technologies, mainly how objects can be manipulated only using brain waves. But it's not a great film. Worth a look, but don't stay up late.

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