Thursday, September 24, 2009

Don't worry, this'll only hurt for about 88 minutes

If you’re dying to know what it might be like to see a movie made entirely by robots you could do worse than
Surrogates. This new Disney product is top to bottom a sleek, smooth and fully deodorized work, completely devoid of such pesky eccentricities as can occasionally spontaneously pop out of the human imagination. There’s an early scene where a boy FBI robot (a wigged and air-brushed Bruce Willis) and a girl FBI robot (Radha Mitchell, looking rather like Rebecca De Mornay) question a robot while another robot looks on. It’s like an interrogation scene played out between cucumbers, except not so lively. Or funny. Once an actual human or two enters the picture, with Willis receiving his requisite ass kicking quickly enough, things only get slightly more animated.

Surrogates is based on a comic book and adapted for the screen by Michael Ferris and John Brancato, both of whom worked on the last couple of Terminator flicks, which surprisingly weren’t enough to dissuade anyone to keep these guys away from more robot movies. Artificial intelligence is a subject that in theory lends itself to any number of provocative, thoughtful stories, yet it so rarely yields anything above a dim-witted extrapolation of Frankenstein or Blade Runner. In imagining a near future where everyone stays home and has their robot surrogate—usually a younger, blander version of themselves—go out and do everything for them, Ferris and Brancato, in league with T3 director Jonathan Mostow, convey a truly astonishing lack of interest in their scenario’s consequences. And if we can agree that science fiction requires a modicum of plausibility to counterbalance the fantastical, these boys are barely showing up to work. The opening flurry of boilerplate newscast exposition informs us that 98% of the global population is using surrogates. That’s right, Tibetan monks, Bangladeshi disaster victims, underpaid Peruvian coffee growers, homeless guys living under bridges, nomadic Kazakh goat herders subsisting without electricity or running water—all of them are plugged in, kicking back and having their robot doubles plow the fields, get laid, breakdance, and take out the trash. This is when ignorance becomes offensive. I don’t think 98% of the world’s population even owns a fucking radio.

Man, I wish I were in La Jetée, or at least 12 Monkeys.
Maybe a tanning bed.

The story as such concerns an investigation into a murder enacted with a secret zap gun that fries a surrogate’s insides so fast that I guess it somehow gives the same jolt to its human counterpart. Or something. Anyway the victim’s the son of the original surrogate inventor (James Cromwell), who now holes up in his mansion and is clearly up to no good. Bruce decides to rough it and try first-hand experience again after his surrogate is blown to bits following a chopper crash into the inner-city fortress of a band of anti-surrogate insurgents, all of whom, for some reason, are unpleasant, overweight, unshaven, and dress like pissed-off hillbillies. They’re led by Ving Rhames, dolled-up like a Rastafarian mystic, but there’s something fishy about him, too. So we sit patiently and wait for all the drearily predictable plot twists to play out, building to a climax that offers the one genuinely nifty sequence in the whole movie, with dozens upon dozes of life-size Kens and Barbies collapsing in the streets like they’re reenacting that Radiohead video where they guy can’t get up. Think how much better the movie could have been had it started there.

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