Sunday, 18 October 2009


Surrogates would appear to be one of those unfortunate releases undermined by its own trailer. The juicy premise of Bruce Willis back in an action setting, a leavening of conspiracy, some thundering set-pieces… It's even from the director of Terminator 3, so wouldn’t Die Hard 2010 be a title more befitting the adverts?

Surprisingly (even shockingly), Surrogates has more up its blockbuster sleeve than that. Unsurprisingly, hardcore action fans will be let down by the lack of Nakatomi Plaza levels of destruction.

In a futuristic USA (the cloistered view of America as the world’s primary civilization still persists, sadly), people choose to plug into ‘surrogate’ versions of themselves, rather than face the outside world. Crime levels and communicable disease have dropped sharply, so all would appear well…Until that is the son of the creator of surrogacy is found murdered, his real-life operator being discovered dead as well.

A mop-topped Willis as FBI Agent Greer investigates, accompanied by sexy partner Peters (Radha Mitchell, doing little but sexy). What he uncovers will have far reaching consequences not only for the future of the country and surrogacy but for himself, as the real life (slap head) Greer comes to rebel against his make-believe state…

Yes, the premise is derivative and the inspirations shameless, both literary (Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty Four) and cinematic (Minority Report, I Robot). Certain elements don’t gel (Ving Rhames as a dreadlocked human rebel leader set against surrogacy comes across as a hairier, militant Benjamin Zephaniah); while others have all too quickly become eye rolling clich├ęs of the genre (the electronic product placement was refreshing in Minority Report but cynical here).

However, director Jonathan Mostow can finally indulge himself a thoughtful scenario: a slick blend of moderate noir intrigue in a futuristic setting, having been freed from the franchise shackles of T3, the surplus requirements of attempting to top Jim Cameron's CGI and each successive Arnie in-joke now no longer a pre-requisite.

He has a strong moral centre in Willis who pleasingly doesn’t rely on the mere contrast of haircuts to define Greer’s character. Surrogate Greer is slick and glowering of brow, while the real one is a shambling, anxious wreck, Willis’ sensitive performance investing the film with quiet pathos, a man again forced to face the real world existing beyond his apartment door. His interactions with a typically glacial Rosamund Pike as his surrogate dependent wife wrestles with darker emotional undercurrents that could do with being explored further, although the film’s brevity, at 85 mins, is refreshing.

If the rest of the film is more of a sap to predictability, with yet another waste of the brilliant James Cromwell as the arch scientist at the heart of the mystery, at least it’s brave enough to end on a note of ostensible hope brimmed with dubious undercurrents. Funnily enough there are overtones of Terminator 3’s climactic high spot, where a commercial product finally has the gumption to leave its audience thinking rather than buzzing.

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