Imagine owning a Surrogate or Avatar that you could use in the real world, to go to work and do all the things you ever wanted, free of consequence or risk. Of course you can be whoever you want to be and no one will know. Following an interesting pre-credits montage incorporating real life advances, with added make believe inserts, perhaps we are not so far away.
This is the premise of Jonathan Mostow’s (Terminator 3) new thriller. Certainly the idea is interesting and whilst not wasted, is perhaps not employed here as effectively as the more popular and highest grossing movie to date,”Avatar”.
This squeaky clean Utopia, where everyone looks good, tanned and young, is only spoiled by the “Dread” areas where machines are considered abominations. This straggly group led by the “Prophet” a weirdly dread locked Ving Rhames, controls areas where surrogates are forbidden.
Bruce Willis plays both his surrogate, plastic fresh faced FBI agent (Tom Greer), complete with geeky hairstyle and his real life owner, who is grungy, battered and sans hair. Greer’s beauty technician wife, has all but retreated completely into her surrogate world, following the death of their son.
Willis working with his surrogate FBI partner (Mitchell), investigates the apparent murder of the son of the original creator of the surrogate program (an under used James Cromwell). Of course surrogates can die, they are two a penny but normally the owner is protected but not so here, with a military inspired weapon, the surrogate dies and so does the owner, which was definitely not in the brochure.
The need for various recharge points is a neat touch, we may be able to do what we like but we still need to be powered up. The surrogates enjoying the occasional “jack up”, which is an obvious substitute for drug use on occasion. If you mess up in real life, retreat to an surrogate, mess that up, that’s ok as you can just start again with another model.
Mostow handles the limited action scenes well, some scenes are reminiscent of the Terminatrix in T3, jumping on speeding cars with little regard to physics, FBI models will be enhanced after all. Willis is on mediocre form, not his best acting nor phoning his performance in. If anything, he appears more comfortable acting as his surrogate, certainly the team have made a good job or making everyone look plasticky and perfect. Willis looks most exposed and vulnerable to audience giggling when strapped into his chair, with what appears to be tanning salon sunglasses on.
The chase scenes of course allow a high body count with no blood letting, as passers by are thrown over the speeding bonnet as they can all be replaced, an interesting concept where violent crime has all but been eradicated. Even possible crime can be prevented by shutting down models about to transgress, similar to “Minority Report”.
Mitchell gets to play good and bad as the situation demands, as her controller changes hands, a novel spin on the remote desktop idea. We even get the stereotypical obese computer nerd who in this case refuses to be beautified, will nerds never be “cool” even in the future?
Overall this magpie of ideas and action from other movies, does work well as a whole. It’s not as serious as it might have been or maybe even intended to be. The movie ultimately settling on a formulaic thriller with a neat conclusion, which must have been fun to film, which may have some passing relevance in our increasingly connected world.
Competent and effective short thriller, with an interesting idea perhaps not fully exploited.
Recommended as better than you might expect but falling short of what might have been.