By David Adams
Boston, sometime in the near future. FBI Agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) investigates what may be the first homicide in a decade. Someone has killed a human “operator” by destroying his surrogate — a robot (or “unit”) controlled by the operator’s brainwaves. Lionel Canter (James Cromwell) invented surrogates, founded VSI Inc. to manufacture and market them, made billions, left the business, and now lives as a mega-wealthy recluse. His only son is the homicide victim, his brains fried.
Who is the killer? How did he override the surrogate security system meant to insulate operators from their units? Who hired the hit man? If you really want answers, see “Surrogates.” Otherwise, wait for the DVD.
Bruce Willis as FBI Agent Tom Greer and Rosamund Pike as wife Maggie have brief, but affecting scenes — parents grieving over the loss of their son. Willis and James Cromwell as ex-VSI mogul Lionel Canter also connect — fathers grieving for dead sons. Competent actors, all. Otherwise, “Surrogates” doesn’t have much for actors to do — chase sequences and lines like, “It’s not over until we find the weapon.”
Others in the cast include Radha Mitchell as Jennifer Peters, Willis’ plucky FBI partner. Boris Kodjoe is Agent Stone, their FBI superior. Jack Noseworthy plays Miles Strickland, elusive and mysterious hit man. Ving Rhames is “The Prophet,” charismatic leader who, with his ragtag followers, regard units as abominations. They live apart in reservations, “No Machines Allowed.”
“Surrogates” is a so-so action whodunit with a sci-fi overlay. Director Jonathan Mostow and writers Michael Ferris and John D. Brancato work from a graphic novel by Robert Vendetti and Brett Weldele. Like recent sci-fi film “District 9” — a much better flick — “Surrogates” has a subtext. “We’re not meant to experience the world through machines,” says The Prophet. We hear the lesson again at film’s end. “It appears, at least for now, that we are on our own,” says Agent Greer. Twitterers, who connect instead of relating face-to-face, take note. What’s the mass appeal — one billion in use — of surrogates? “Be what you want. Do what you want,” says VSI. All from the comfort and safety of home. A resonant lesson these days, but it’s tacked on, not embedded in the narrative as in “District 9.”
Rated PG-13 for intense violence, disturbing images, language, sex and drugs. Definitely not for kids. (How do films like this get PG-13 ratings?) Seems longer than its 88 minutes. Want a good robot movie? Rent the best — “Blade Runner” (1982) or, more recently, “I, Robot” (2004).
Sci-fi “Surrogates” —
Cops and robots,
My advice? Shun it.