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Set sometime in the near future, Surrogates imagines a world in which 99% of its inhabitants live their lives vicariously through "surrogates," robotic avatars who brave the hazards of the physical world while their schlubby owners sit safely at home in computerized cocoons, experiencing it all via neural sensors affixed to their heads. Think of it as a flesh-and-blood version of World of Warcraft. Or Facebook. Or The Sims. Potential present-day analogies are practically infinite.

As a consequence of mankind's virtualized existence, violent crime has dropped to an all-time low, since any harm inflicted on a surrogate results in no such injury to its host. Folks are free to go about their increasingly decadent business without fear of the inevitable drawbacks that come with high-risk lifestyles. If their robotic counterpart happens to incur damage, or cease functioning altogether, owners can simply order a replacement from VSI, the suitably dubious mega-corporation in Surrogates that manufactures and markets the robots.

Not everyone is eager to embrace this new world order, of course, and a determined group of quasi-religious luddites, led by a dreadlocked guru aptly named "The Prophet" (Ving Rhames), has assembled in major cities around the world. Eschewing most modern technology, they toil like the Amish in shabby communes as their Prophet regales them with apocalyptic diatribes.

Back in the civilized world, cracks in the utopian edifice form when a pair of surrogate murders result in the deaths of their respective hosts, something heretofore considered impossible. Called in to investigate the first homicides in years, FBI agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell), discover that one of the victims is the son of Canter (James Cromwell), the very man who first invented robotic surrogates. Greer and Peters naturally assume the Prophet and his acolytes to be at the core of the conspiracy, but a nagging question remains: How could they gain access to the advanced technology necessary to create a weapon capable of killing both a surrogate and its host?


Clocking in at a breezy 88 minutes, Surrogates spares its audience the troubling metaphysical questions that so often characterize more ambitious sci-fi projects. Much like the robots at the heart of its story, director Jonathan Mostow's (Terminator 3) film may be shallow and synthetic, but it sure is pretty to look at. Expect to spend more time contemplating Willis' absurd blonde wig or Mitchell's remarkable robotic rack than the implications of society's increasing disconnect from itself.


With its all-too-thin storyline and derivative characters, Surrogates makes for a forgettable, if occasionally entertaining, experience. A subplot involving the increasingly strained relationship between agent Greer and his wife (played by Rosamund Pike), presumably meant to add depth to Willis' character, feels tedious and unnecessary. A monotonous score telegraphs every decisive moment in the film, ensuring that even the most oblivious viewer is aware that something important is about to happen. And despite director Mostow's obvious proficiency with visual effects — both practical and digital — some set pieces look cheaply rendered.


There are dozens — dozens — of car crashes in Surrogates, yet not a single airbag deploys. The future, it seems, has no place for proper automobile safety. rated this film 3 stars.