Surrogates (2009)

2010 #118
Jonathan Mostow | 89 mins | Blu-ray | 12 / PG-13

The near future: most of mankind now lives through ‘surrogates’ — robots that look like perfect versions of ourselves (generally), which we control from elaborate machines sat around in our homes. The anonymity of the online world brought into the real one, essentially.

It is, on the one hand, an intriguing premise. On the other, it’s thoroughly daft.

Part of the problem is that Surrogates exerts too much effort establishing this world. The opening montage covers 14 years of future history to take us from the world we know to the world of the story, but in the process is so crammed with improbabilities I wouldn’t know where to begin listing them. The premise is dreadfully implausible; this just serves to highlight it. The whole film might fare better if it just asked the audience to suspend their disbelief — to just accept this world, not try to imagine it developing from our own — because as it is, the very unlikelihood of this coming to pass colours a lot of what happens after (at least, it did for me).

What happens after is a murder mystery-cum-action/adventure, and one that fails to satisfy on either front. It’s mainly a thriller, so the action sequences are rather tacked in — “I suppose we could manage one there, and another here, and that’s a little bit action-y” — while almost every plot ‘twist’ is startlingly unsurprising (though it does manage one half decent one).

Someone involved clearly thought they were being Profound and that the story explored issues of “what it means to be human” and all that kind of stuff. The concept does invite such musing, but it’s not well executed here. Mostow is more at home in the handful of action sequences, even if they are quite cheaply realised as well as being tacked on, and struggles to bring anything to the screenplay’s heavy-handed cod-philosophising that dictates events in too many of the subplots.

Plus, at only just over 80 minutes (before credits), it feels much longer. That’s never a good thing.

It’s a shame it’s been so mucked up, because there might be a good idea or two squirrelled away inside Surrogates. Conversely, that might be the problem: it’s a neat concept, but difficult to develop into a movie. Certainly it would need more skilled hands than these; hands that could avoid the pitfalls of a plot so predictable it becomes hard to list other movies that have the same story — you just know it.

If you want to muse on what makes us human in a world of near-identical robotic replicas, watch Blade Runner. If you want a plot about a future world where we coexist with robots peacefully until Something That Can’t Happen Does Happen, watch (the slightly underrated) I, Robot. If you want to get a little frustrated and lament missed opportunities, with a few flashes of inspiration, then rent Surrogates.

2 out of 5

And that completes the reviews for 2010!

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