Surrogates
Yeah, this film made me feel like that too.

Theatrical Release Date: 09/25/2009
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Cast: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames, Michael Cudlitz, Jack Noseworthy

Plugging into theaters this weekend is the latest cautionary tale regarding advancement in robotic technology, “Surrogates”. In the film, humanity has turned to robotic surrogates to take their place in everyday life, giving everyone the opportunity to be young and carefree no matter their age or physical ability. Of course there’s something potentially sinister about the whole deal and Bruce Willis plays an FBI agent who uncovers a plot to bring the whole system down. Cue all the moral dilemmas involved when humans end up becoming slaves to the machines they’ve created and good luck to audiences in making the time spent feel worth the price of admission.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the film is that they didn’t cast Cameron Bright, since I had thought he had a contract to be in any film involving humanoid robots (don’t worry “Twilight” fans, you’re gonna get a taste of him in the next two installments of that “wonderful” franchise). But alas, the rest of the cast more than made up for it with some of the most wooden acting this side of the lumber yard.

Willis sleepwalks through his role and it was hard to tell whether he was more lifeless as his surrogate or as himself. The hairpiece that he wore though was probably the loudest element in the film. Reminiscent of the fluff he sported in 1997′s “The Jackal”, I often forgot what was going on in the film because I was mesmerized by the blond tuft on top of his head that I was afraid would escape and terrorize the streets. If I were ranking his hair versus his performance, the score would be 9 to 2 – the hair has more energy than his acting by far.

Unlike Willis, Rosamund Pike, playing his wife, needed to tone her performance down – imbuing too much emotion into her robotic counterpart and portraying her flesh and blood self like a fragile woman far beyond her years. Radha Mitchell succeeded in making her surrogate completely lifeless but there wasn’t enough of her human half to make any sort of interesting contrast.

And then we come to James Cromwell. I single him out not so much for any deficiency in acting but because I’ve already seen him play this role, in “I, Robot”. In both films, he’s the father of a robotic technology that has begun to suck the soul out of our humanity. In both films, he realizes the errors of his ways and attempts to correct the problem, utilizing help from within law enforcement. In both films, he is essentially a martyr waiting to happen.

In the end, I place most of the blame on director Jonathan Mostow, who must have done something right in another life. He broke big with “U-571″, which has some merit but is ultimately remembered for such terrible lines as “splashes” and “more splashes”. Then he made a spectacular mockery of robots rising up to kill humanity with “Terminator 3″ and decided that he had so much fun ruining that sci-fi franchise that he’d take another frantic stab at the genre with “Surrogates”.

The basic issues with the film all stem from his inability to make any of the material feel exciting or controversial … the two elements that should be at the forefront of everything on screen. The action is ho-hum and many of the green screen effects and CGI looked like something from the late 90s. At one point, Pike’s character asks what is wanted of her and all I could think of was that I wanted the credits to roll.

Perhaps not so much on Mostow, though I’m sure he could have at least tried to fix this, was the terribly overwrought score. From the opening production company logos, there’s a cacophony of heavy handed dramatic work from composer Richard Marvin. He has primarily done television work beforehand and it shows, as on the small screen the norm is to hit the audience with stingers and lead them to the emotion rather than let the scene speak for itself. Here, I just wanted to turn it down and move on.

I suppose it’s likely that with Bruce Willis’ name on the marquee, “Surrogates” might be #1 at the box office. That’s fitting then that I give the film a 1 out of 5 thanks to its disengaging style, sloppy effects and uninspired result. Do yourself and me a favor, skip this flick. I say it’s a favor to me as well because maybe it will keep people from giving Mostow the reins to another sci-fi film that he doesn’t know how to execute properly. Then maybe the next time a potentially interesting concept comes to the silver screen, it’ll be something worth seeing … maybe.