You’d think that with all the miracles that CGI is capable of someone in Hollywood would figure out what to do with Bruce Willis’ hair. In Surrogates, out today on DVD and Blu-ray, an amber thatch just kind of dies on his head. But here at least the script justifies the follicular folly. Blond Bruce, you see, is the avatar…err, surrogate…of Bald Bruce, an FBI agent who mopes around on his high-tech couch and has his android self interact with the outside world. He’s not alone: In the well-run but sterile dystopia of 2017 most humans have given up on the human race, stay indoors behind locked doors, and let the computer-powered surrogates take care of business.

When Blond Bruce is permanently deleted by old, fat revolutionaries who reject the new world order of couch potatoes and their perfectly honed and youthful doubles and live off the grid in Boston (which plays itself, minus the surrogacy of, say, Vancouver or Shreveport) Bald Bruce is forced to step outside to figure out the mystery. Surrogates, you see, are being zapped by an ”overload device,” and their housebound operators killed, starting with the son of the altruistic creator of the program (James Cromwell, in a role, and a movie, similar to I, Robot). It seems the bad guys are members of the rebel tribe, led by the dreadlocked Prophet (Ving Rhames)—but members of the plugged-in elite have multiple surrogates, and a few reasons for self-preservation. The body-hopping conspiracy comes to involve Bald Bruce’s partner (Radha Mitchell, typically resourceful and underused) and semi-Stepford wife (An Education co-star Rosamund Pike), who is as disconcerted by his grizzled appearance as he is by the realization that life on the outside isn’t as traumatic as he remembers.

Based on a graphic novel (you knew those five words were coming) Surrogates is directed by Jonathan Mostow, one of the best of the action directors not named Cameron, Jackson, or Spielberg, who made the lean, hard-driving Breakdown (1997), the tense, mid-sized U-571 (2000), and the mega-budgeted Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), which unlike the recent installment was noisy and exciting enough to disguise its pointlessness. Writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris are old hands at this sort of thing, having penned the Cameron-free Terminators, The Net (1995), and The Game (1997). In either variety Willis is Willis, hardboiled everyman on the case. Surrogates, however, fails to upload, and it’s not just because hairless, bewhiskered Willis is more attractive and easier to accept than his blond, soft-scrubbed surrogate, which sort of sabotages the concept.

In his diplomatic commentary Mostow admits to a certain pressure to get to the human factor and Bald Bruce, with the sci-fi basics laid out and dispensed with in the opening credits. I’m all in favor of a movie that doesn’t wear out its welcome but Surrogates runs a suspiciously brief 89 minutes, and feels like something that was chopped-up and fitted with spare parts. In the space between chases (not Mostow’s best) and melodrama (shared grief has caused Willis and wife to drop out of society) illogicalities seep in. Why are the surrogates endowed with super strength when no one does much except use them to go to work and shop for milk? Why don’t the operators make them drink and drug and fuck and kill and create general anarchy? Hey, I would. And why would I sit around all day in a funk if my surrogate were doing all the daily dull crap for me? I appreciate the pro-human stance that Surrogates ultimately takes, which I’m more comfortable with than the abandonment of our kind that Avatar implies. But surrogacy isn’t as much fun as slipping into a humanoid body and riding pretty green dragons. Plus, Mostow and the writers clearly saw that the new moon and manimals predicted for this year by 2010 (1984) and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) weren’t going to pan out, so why set Surrogates in a near future that can’t even get a health plan going?

Surrogates, which aspires to A.I: Artificial Intelligence (2001) yet just clears the level of kitsch like Looker (1981) and Runaway (1984), comes to DVD in an acceptable anamorphic widescreen transfer. Besides Mostow’s commentary the only other extra is an insipid music video for Breaking Benjamin’s ”I Will Not Bow,” whose chronological use of clips gives away the film’s entire plot. You will not watch until afterwards.

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About the Author

Bob Cashill

An Editorial Board Member of Cineaste magazine, Bob is also a member of the Drama Desk theatrical critics society in New York. See what he's watching on Letterboxd and read more from him at New York Theater News.

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