An entertaining sci-fi thriller/drama from consistently reliable director Jonathan Mostow ("U-571", "T3"), "Surrogates" reunites the director with "Terminator 3" writers Michael Ferris and John Brancato.
The picture is a futuristic tale where humans do not even need to go out anymore (and quite honestly, while a bit much, one could possibly live entirely at home today - groceries can be delivered, anything can be ordered online - heck, a Blackberry system outage is serious, breaking news) and spend their days reclining at home. Taking their place are synthetic humans who go about the daily lives that the actual humans used to have to go experience. The human units are controlled by the minds of the actual humans, and the units often look more ideal - younger, fresher, etc - than the actual human they represent. Entire wars are fought by surrogates, with their operators sitting, arcade-like, in a room thousands of miles away.
The film stars Bruce Willis as Greer (Willis looking much younger, and with well...more hair), an FBI agent who is partnered with Jennifer Peters (Radha Mitchell). The two are called in one night to investigate a murder outside of a nightclub. The end of the surrogates also meant the end of the operators (which has never been seen before), and one of them is the son of the inventor of the technology, played by James Cromwell. When the two agents try to interview the creator, they only are able to speak to one of his surrogates.
The detective quickly realizes that in order to track down what's really going on, he'll have to step into the outside world on his own. In a world where humans are used to sitting at home while their "avatars" experience the outside world, going out on his own (with the actual Greer looking older and more worn) isn't initially so easy. Uneasy and anxious on the city streets, when asked the last time he went out as himself, Greer can't even remember. Later in the movie, his wife scolds him for going out without his surrogate.
In the meantime, terrorists called "Dreads" (whose leader is quite well-played by Ving Rhames) protest the "surrogates" and live a real - if more basic - life off the grid in gritty reservations that they have claimed as their territory. The picture's story does take elements from "The Matrix" and "I, Robot" (and some of the messages seem a tad heavy-handed, but it's refreshing that the movie doesn't stop to explain every plot point), but at least does usually give them its own spin. There are some nifty little moments throughout (Cromwell's character appearing in different forms, moments of difficulty for the characters adjusting to or thinking about returning to what was once "normal" life in the outside world, an excellent ending) and the picture eventually reveals the grander conspiracy. At only a mere 89 minutes, the picture is certainly zippy, remaining urgently paced throughout.
While Radha Mitchell, Cromwell and Rhames offer satisfactory supporting efforts, the movie is largely carried by Willis, who does an excellent job as an FBI agent forced to venture out without the assistance of his robotic avatar. Mostow also delivers a few above-average action sequences, as well.
"Surrogates" does feel like parts of other films, but Mostow provides fine direction and Willis offers quite a good performance, carrying the film well.
VIDEO: "Surrogates" is presented by Touchstone Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is quite nice, with a clean, smooth overall look. Sharpness and detail are, with the exception of a few minor moments here-and-there, quite pleasing. There are few flaws to be found, as no edge enhancement or print flaws were seen. A couple of slight traces of pixelation showed up, but the picture otherwise looked silky smooth. Colors appeared somewhat subdued, although I'm guessing this is an intentional element of the look of the film.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack certainly delivered, as one might expect from one of director Mostow's films (such as the legendary sound design for "U-571".) Surrounds are active throughout most of the proceedings, with the action sequences - such as the helicopter crash or an extended car chase late in the film - doing a particularly excellent job of putting the viewer into the scene. Audio quality was top-notch, with crisp, well-recorded dialogue and effects.
EXTRAS: Director Jonathan Mostow offers an audio commentary for the film, and we also get a music video. Mostow's commentary is terrific, as the director offers an insightful and interesting discussion of the picture. He talks about the effects sequences (the picture has more effects shots than any of the director's prior films), working on-location in Boston, preparation, working with the actors, reshoots, the visual style, story issues and more. What I particularly liked about this commentary is how Mostow's chat really puts the viewer into the director's mindset when starting to film a sequence, as he talks about all of the different elements that have to be planned and have meetings about within one scene. Overall, Mostow offers a wonderfully organized and engaging discussion of the movie, and this is one of the most enjoyable commentaries I've heard in quite a while.
Final Thoughts: Elements of "Surrogates" may feel similar to some other recent sci-fi films, but Willis delivers an excellent performance and director Mostow keeps this entertaining thriller moving at a brisk pace. The DVD boasts a fantastic commentary, very good video quality and excellent audio quality.
The Film B