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"Surrogates" takes robotic tale to silly extremes

 Actor Bruce Willis gestures during the 22nd American Cinematheque Award ceremony in Beverly Hills, California October 12, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni - Reuters
Actor Bruce Willis gestures during the 22nd American Cinematheque Award ceremony in Beverly Hills, California October 12, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
— image credit: Reuters

By Kirk Honeycutt

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "Surrogates" is a movie about human robots that appears to have been made by human robots. Just as the dystopian world the movie portrays is arid and specious, the movie itself is a mechanical sci-fi'er absent of logic or emotions. It functions as an expensive place-filler on the Disney release schedule and, as such, will be welcomed by only the least discriminating thriller fans after it opens Friday.

Bruce Willis and Radha Mitchell play FBI agents in a society in which no one is whom or what he seems. The future world imagined here is one where humans cocoon at home, connected to remote-control devices, while idealized, synthetic surrogates they control via brain impulses march daily into society to engage in any sort of risky behavior without possibility of injury or repercussion. Every "unit" looks like it stepped out of the pages of "InStyle."

You're told in an abbreviated though inadequate introduction that it took a 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision to OK this brave new world. What would have been the constitutional question the Court was deciding, one wonders.

Rather than pay attention to the movie, you start to ponder things such as: Does this mean that a Manny Ramirez surrogate wouldn't need steroids? Would a Glenn Beck robot actually be Sarah Palin -- or maybe Michael Palin?

A few humans refuse to live in a world of robots. They get herded onto reservations and respond to a leader called the Prophet (Ving Rhames). Think of them as the Amish of this brave new world.

The murder of a surrogate that killed its human controller sets police back on their heels. What new weapon did this? Willis and Mitchell rush around to investigate, but you lose confidence in a police procedural where everyone they interview is not really a person. That hot girl may be a slobbering old guy in a tenement or that black guy could be a white guy in a rest home. Indeed, as writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris -- working from a graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele, which you can only hope wasn't as relentlessly silly as this movie -- muddy the waters with plot twists that are like a shell game with human forms, you give up all hope. One character apparently controls far too many surrogates than logic would dictate.

The movie, indifferently directed by Jonathan Mostow, takes a stab at social commentary when Willis is forced to do without his surrogate -- to experience the real word as an actual flesh-and-blood person -- while his character longs to embrace his actual wife rather than her perfectly rendered surrogate (Rosamund Pike).

The Wizard of Oz/mad scientist here (James Cromwell) invented the surrogacy and now has second thoughts. The wonder is that no one had first thoughts. Supposedly crime has gone down. Why would that be? If you can rob Fort Knox without any possible harm, what's to prevent you?

The true illogic to all this doesn't hit home until the big-reveal climax. It's terminally stupid. If you do see this movie, just think about it for a moment.

The Massachusetts-based production is more robotic than probably intended, with most sets looking artificial, the music way too excited and stunts as fake as they can get.

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