Ever since 18th century philosopher/ mathematician Rene Descartes first dreamed up the image of the ghost in the machine to explain the relationship of mind to body, the image has held potent sway with popular imagination. The concept itself, where the body ends and the person begins, is a question that many philosophers have addressed, as have thoughtful excursions into fiction. SURROGATES, based on the graphic novel of the same name by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele, does not fall into that latter category. This predictable flick, executed in a numbingly pedestrian fashion, has slapped a nifty conceit onto its threadbare mystery-thriller plot, but has somehow managed to miss every opportunity to take advantage of it.
That conceit is that in the near future, people, meat bags in the parlance of the day, will spend their time in synth chairs, navigating robotic replicas of themselves through daily life. The synth chairs allow the operator, also the parlance of the day, to experience the world via the surrogate, to an extent determined by the model and upgrade of the surrogate itself. These surrogates also allow the operator to appear as anyone, though most choose an enhanced version of themselves, younger, tauter, and all around more attractive. It’s an ideal situation until the unthinkable happens, and the vandalism of two surrogates actually kills their operators, too. Thus enter Greer and Peters, (Bruce Willis and Radha Mitchell), crack FBI agents working the surrogate crimes division. They both have that lovely air-brushed look to them, and for once the slight imperfection of Willis’ hairpiece has a worthy excuse. As does his lack of facial mobility, though it turns out that he’s doing that strictly for effect. When we meet the real Peters, he’s bald, a bit paunchy, and generally showing the ravages of time and the death of his son and subsequent estrangement from him wife.
Naturally, there is a reactionary movement, the Human Coalition, led by The Prophet (Ving Rhames), the mysterious, dread-locked leader who may or may not have had something to do with the murders, as they are designated. It’s a designation reinforced by the surprising, at least for the people in the film, connection that crops up with the madly wealthy and madly reclusive inventor of the surrogates played as Howard Hughes redux by James Cromwell.
There is precious little imagination at work here in either the depiction of a world populated by surrogates, or in the plot, which creaks along to an ending rife with laughable sophistry. Nor is there much to be found in any of the performances. Willis grimaces. Cromwell snarks. Rhames drones, and the ladies of the piece, tricked out in form-fitting attire that accentuates their surrogate perfection, pucker their brows. As for why the surrogates don’t feel pain, but do feel the joys of nooky, it’s never explained, though nooky is obviously one of the big draws of going surrogate, that and never having to change out of one’s bathrobe..
SURROGATES is a snooze of a film, less relevant to the discourse on the nature of humanity than a Barbie doll, and much less interesting as a diversion,