surrogates2There hasn’t been much in the way of good all out sci-fi action this year. Star Trek was as much introduction as it was action, Terminator: Salvation disappointed, and Transformers… Well, lets not talk about Transformers. So, with District 9 as the only real intelligent contender, Surrogates came along at a good time to try and provide what had been missing this year.

Based on a little known comic, Surrogates starts off with a brief, and almost half-hearted montage of how science has created affordable ‘surrogates’, and how they are now used by 95% of the population. The concept of the surrogate is simple. The user stays at home in a nice comfy chair, hooked-up to their ‘surri’ via a neural link. They then live out their day via the highly advanced, idealised robot version of themselves. The robots are completely human looking, and very strong.

Bruce Willis plays federal agent Tom Greer. Considering crime has apparently all but vanished, it seems questionable that FBI agents are strictly necessary. However, when the surrogates of two people are destroyed, and the human operators also die at their interfaces, the FBI have their most important case for years. If people, who believe they are perfectly safe hiding behind their cybernetic avatars, can be killed through surrogates3their surrogates, it’ll threaten the lifestyle that life is now based around.

Whilst a staple of sci-fi literature nowadays, particularly in short story anthologies, aside from The Matrix the surrogate concept hasn’t really been used in movies. With a fresh idea at it’s helm, and dependable action star Willis at it’s disposal, Surrogates had the potential to be great. The first problem i noticed with Surrogates was that it seems to be a big budget movie made on a ‘reasonable’ budget. The surrogates are created in a 14 year period. Now, the idea of surrogates being designed, made affordable and put into popular use in that time-span is almost ludicrous. (Such a rapid descent of the crime rate even more so, particularly when you factor in the existence of available upgrades such as night vision). The short time hop means exterior shots can be done anywhere, reducing the need for expensive futuristic sets. The surrogates are completely human looking, meaning little more than make-up is required, and the few occasions we do see the robots underneath, they’re on a production line as inanimate, lifeless objects.

The low budget could also to be to blame for a real lack of action. Apart from a couple of chase scenes, involving robots pogo-ing around the scenery, it’s all about the plot, with lots of (poor) dialogue, and tap-tapping on surrogates4computers. The back-story of Greer, and the events that have affected his home life, have been put in to add some drama and human interest. But really, this subplot almost highjacks the movie, slowing down any momentum the film begins to build. Some achievement considering the short running time.

The biggest mistake was hiring Jonathan Mostow. Mostow isn’t a bad director, but since Breakdown he’s made average an art form. Words like capable, functional and adequate are all words that perfectly describe his work. Written by Mostow’s collaborators from Teminator 3, Michael Ferris and John D Brancato, you get the feeling the studio were just trying to knock out an adequate movie on a cautious budget and make a couple of cheap bucks.

It’s a real shame. When the opportunity to make an action movie with a human Bruce Willis taking a beating from near-unbeatable robots comes along, you need to grab it with both hands, because that’s what Willis does best. And he does his best with what he’s given here. Incidentally, his two female co-stars, Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill) as his partner Peters and Rosamund Pike (Fracture) as his dis-passionate wife Maggie also do a really great job here, considering.

A missed opportunity, then. Surrogates, with it’s fresh concept and great source material, had the potential to be great. With the right budget, and a more adventurous director, it could have been one of the films of the year. Instead, it’s the worst kind of movie – one that inspires not awe or ire, just apathy.

Surrogates is out in cinemas in the US and UK now.