DVD Release Date:  January 26, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  September 25, 2009
Rating:  PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and a drug-related scene)
Genre:  Science Fiction, Action/Adventure, Adaptation
Run Time:  88 min.
Director:  Jonathan Mostow
Actors:  Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Rosamund Pike, Radha Mitchell, James Cromwell, Jack Noseworthy, Boris Kodjoe

Surrogates, a new sci-fi film from Jonathan Mostow, the director of Terminator 3, feels like a clone of any number of other, better films. Its themes of human identity and connectedness never jell into a resonant story. That's a shame, because Surrogates, based on a graphic novel, has elements of something much deeper and more profound than what's been brought to the big-screen treatment of the material.

The story opens with a brief history of human surrogates, created 14 years before the main story, when an inventor by the name of Canter (James Cromwell) develops prettier, more perfect versions of real humans. The surrogates are then mapped neurally to their human counterparts, allowing the humans to control the androids. The humans spend hours in fancy "stim chairs," strapping on some futuristic goggles and absorbing life vicariously through their surrogates. The result: a much less hostile environment, including plummeting crime rates. Humans like their newly passive existence so much that society becomes dominated by substitute people, with nearly 100 percent of the population sending out surrogates to conduct their daily business.

The story's more interesting implications for human interconnectedness, or lack thereof, are pushed aside for a hackneyed plot involving a corporation, its possibly villainous company founder and a deadly weapon. The story kicks into gear when surrogates are killed with a "super gun" of sorts that also takes out the surrogates' "connected" human owners. The humans are found dead in their stim chairs, eye sockets blackened, bloody splotches marring their faces.

Brought in to investigate the deaths is surrogate FBI duo Greer (Bruce Willis, with a boyish haircut) and Peters (Radha Mitchell). Greer's home life is even more complicated than the case he's assigned to solve.  Although he's still willing and able to "turn off" his surrogate at night, his wife has no such willingness and no desire to live life apart from the one she lives through her surrogate. With only one partner willing to keep his human and surrogates lives separate, can their marriage survive?

"Surrogacy is an addiction," intones Canter, and we see that struggle primarily through Greer's efforts to rekindle his relationship with his wife. Her complexion may not be as pristine as her surrogate's, but Greer isn't fooled.  He remembers their earlier years, before surrogacy drew the couple apart, and he longs to reconnect with the woman he still loves.

Also resisting the rise of surrogates is the Prophet (Ving Rhames), who preaches that life can't be fully experienced through machines. His faithful followers are few, and are confined to a reservation, as 99 percent of humanity has embraced surrogacy. But the Prophet exhorts them, "When you sacrifice for a greater good … you never die. That is what it means to be human."

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The film draws on themes from films like Total Recall and the recent District 9, but while those films were not problem-free, their themes were much better worked out than the rushed, 88-minute Surrogates. Rather than develop the more cerebral aspects of the story, Mostow orchestrates a couple of long chases, one of which includes a relentless female android reminiscent of the female terminator in Mostow's Terminator 3. He substitutes action where thoughtful dialogue and exposition would have been more helpful.

In some respects, Surrogates resembles Michael Bay's provocative The Island—another film full of fascinating ideas that were underdeveloped in favor of explosions and lengthy chase scenes. Viewers who are tired of that approach—and who isn't?—are advised to seek out Moon or District 9—again, not problem-free films, but far less muddled than Surrogates. Seek out any and all substitute choices.