- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

Desperate to avoid the perils of everyday living, humanity has turned virtual reality into actual reality in the new sci-fi action flick “Surrogates.”

Remotely plugged into androids known as surrogates, people go about their daily activities without having to fear death from accidents, infectious diseases or any of the other risks associated with our modern world.

Indeed, when occasional humans unplug, they are so overwhelmed by the sensation of risk it is suggested they take anxiety medication just to walk down the street.

Welcome to the future.

But all is not well in this technological paradise: Someone has found a way to kill a user through his surrogate, an action thought to be impossible. When the son of the man who invented the androids is murdered in this fashion, FBI Special Agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell) must discover who is wielding this weapon and what it represents, lest a panic begins.

What follows is a twisty whodunit that is never quite believable or satisfying, especially when Greer tries to re-connect with the humanity he has lost by living such a sheltered life. His attempts to persuade his wife, Maggie (Rosamund Pike) to join him by casting off her surrogate are similarly awkward.

“Surrogates” is at its best when the focus moves away from plot and toward set design. It’s a fascinating world that director Jonathan Mostow has created: The surrogates have a plasticlike sheen that differentiates them from the “meat bags” who refuse to jack into the system. Mr. Willis in particular shines — both literally and figuratively — because he’s almost the only actor asked to perform as both a surrogate and his regular human self.

Mr. Mostow retains an excellent sense for the flow of an action scene. The man behind “Terminator 3” and “U-571” puts together a pair of excellent chases: one via a helicopter chasing down a human murderer, the other via a car chasing down a rogue surrogate.

Unfortunately, these high-octane blips are just that — blips. It’s commendable that Mr. Mostow would want to examine some of the deeper issues surrounding the concept of surrogacy instead of simply pushing forward with action scene after action scene. But the script by Michael Ferris and John D. Brancato is lacking. What little discussion there is of these issues is overshadowed by the cartoonish coalition that has sprung up around opposing surrogacy.

The few “dreads” raging against the machines are luddite rednecks, with the exception of their leader, the Prophet (Ving Rhames), a black dreadlock-wearing preacher who comes off as a cut-rate version of Osama bin Laden by way of Mumia Abu-Jamal. It’s a goofy mixture, to say the least, and a distracting one at that.

The film’s politics, such as they are, come off as at least a little muddled.

★★

TITLE: “Surrogates”

RATING: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and a drug-related scene)

CREDITS: Directed by Jonathan Mostow, written by Michael Ferris and John D. Brancato

RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes

WEB SITE: https://chooseyoursurrogate.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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