x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Surrogates: a bland new age

Despite a convoluted plot, Surrogates is an entertaining take on a futuristic world and Bruce Willis is as fit as ever.

In <i>Surrogates</i>, Bruce Willis stars as an agent investigating a murder in a world where people rely on robotic versions of themselves to carry out their daily lives.
In Surrogates, Bruce Willis stars as an agent investigating a murder in a world where people rely on robotic versions of themselves to carry out their daily lives.

Bruce Willis is 55 now. Would you believe it? Doesn't it seem like only yesterday that he was swinging his way through the early Die Hard films like some kind of relentless, balding gorilla? What's more, earlier this month plans were announced for a fifth Die Hard instalment (Dying Hard in a Residential Home, perhaps). Bruce had better be taking his cod liver oil.

He must have been swallowing gallons of the stuff for his role in Surrogates, a science fiction film based on the comic series written by Robert Venditti. Willis at 55? More like 35 here. The film's premise is not a novel one; it steals bits and pieces from Blade Runner, The Matrix and the Terminator films. (The latter is a particularly close link given that Surrogates was directed by Jonathan Mostow, who directed Terminator 3.) Essentially, the human race has come to rely on the use of robotic surrogate selves to roam the streets and carry out their everyday lives. Meanwhile, their real selves remain cloistered at home controlling their surrogates with a fancy piece of head equipment that looks like something Lady Gaga might wear.

Sound unlikely? Reflect on how much you use Facebook for social interaction these days instead of having a conversation. Exactly. The use of these robots means that the fat-bottomed real people at home have become nearly invincible. Serious crime has evaporated, racism has vanished and the world has become blessedly disease-free. It also means that the world has become a good deal better looking. Willis's surrogate has a full head of floppy blond hair and skin peachier than Cheryl Cole's. So does the surrogate of his wife, Maggie (Rosamund Pike). Airbrushing was used extensively, apparently, to smooth and beautify the actors' surrogates, although one imagines they had to spend longer on Willis than Pike.

Willis's character, Tom, is a cop (of course) partnered with an agent called Peters (Radha Mitchell). The tale begins with the pair being called to a murder scene, where they stumble across a surrogate corpse with burnt-out optics. That's odd for a start, because murder rarely occurs in this happy world. Spookier still is the fact that the body of its operator is then discovered dead at home, bleeding from his eye sockets - which isn't supposed to happen either, because operators are immune from whatever happens to their robotic units. Worse still, the victim is the son of Dr Lionel Canter (James Cromwell), who invented surrogates. Something's afoot.

Closed-circuit television footage shows that the culprit is a "dread", one of the few remaining human beings resisting the surrogate tide. These dreads live in a grotty reservation area ruled by a dreadlocked master (Ving Rhames). It's forbidden territory to surrogates. Tom violates this ban in pursuit of the dread in question, who has apparently managed to acquire a magical weapon that can kill both surrogates and their operators with the flash of a laser beam. Off Tom runs, straight into the reservation, where his surrogate is destroyed by furious humans.

A twisting plot path follows, confusing who the goodies and the baddies are. Tom is put on suspension for entering the reservation and isn't allowed a new surrogate. So out goes the 55-year-old Willis, stumbling without his surrogate like a newborn Bambi. He busies himself with trying to track down the origin of the mysterious weapon. Along the way, he grapples with his flailing marriage and grieves for his son, long since dead after a car accident (a plot line left woefully undeveloped). There are a good number of close-ups on Willis's squinting face. Has he ever starred in a film in which his cheeks aren't bloodied by the end?

It's entertaining stuff, which has surprised some because when the movie was released in cinemas last year Disney didn't hold any pre-screenings for critics. This is a move usually taken to avoid early, negative publicity and a sign that even the film's studio thinks it has made a turkey - which feels a trifle unfair here. It's not The Matrix, obviously, but it's an interesting enough glimpse into a bland, futuristic world.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and poke someone on Facebook.