April 27, 2018
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‘Surrogates’ leaves too much unanswered

By Christopher Smith

In theaters

SURROGATES, directed by Jonathan Mostow, written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, 89 minutes, rated PG-13.

Forget “Fame.” Pass over “Pandorum.” The week’s better new release is Jonathan Mostow’s “Surrogates,” a sci-fi action movie that, to quote the film, imagines “a world where you can be anyone, go anywhere, do anything. Robotic human surrogates combine the ability of a machine with the grace and beauty of the human body. With most human beings living their lives through their surrogate selves, our world has become a safer place.”

Well, not quite.

Mostow based his film on John Brancato and Michael Ferris’ script, itself a riff on Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele’s graphic novel, and what they’ve created smacks of the popular online game “Second Life,” only without the violent twists taken here.

Just as in the game, “Surrogates” features normal-looking people who live amazing lives in beautiful-looking bodies. For instance, if you wish, you can look like yourself, only a whole lot better — that is, of course, if you can overlook your surrogate’s soul-less eyes and the odd way it walks. As for that last part, what if you’re physically disabled and can’t walk? No problem. Just sit in your

“stim chair,” hook yourself up to a surrogate who can walk and exist through them.

Initially, the whole enterprise takes off. Crime, racism, drug addiction and disease plummet. People enjoy pseudosexy times while sitting unbathed and uncombed in the comfort of their own homes. But when surrogate murder enters into the equation — an unthinkable event, especially since it kills the host body — Bruce Willis steps in to investigate as FBI agent Greer.

Greer also is a surrogate, one with poreless skin and a full head of blond hair that suggests Barbie’s pal, Ken, was snatched bald. Soon, in a run of events that would spoil the movie if revealed here, it’s the real Willis we’re looking at, and let’s just say this Greer is a bit more grizzled.

And also critical to all that follows. While he might no longer be physically attractive to his robot wife (Rosamind Pike), who refuses to ditch her pretty surrogate to live life as her real self, Greer has more pressing situations to deal with. You know, like saving the world and mankind from itself. That sort of thing.

Helping him along the way is The Prophet (Ving Rhames, replete with dreadlocks), who is the head of “The Dreaders,” a society of humans who refuse to become surrogates and who, flipping “District 9” on its head, are quarantined as a result. Also key is James Cromwell as the man who initially envisioned and created the surrogate lifestyle, as well as Radha Mitchell as Greer’s fellow detective.

Throughout “Surrogates,” the references are broad and obvious, stretching from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” to “Westworld,” “Blade Runner” and “I, Robot.” The good news is that these references don’t distract as much as they inform. We are, after all, increasingly becoming a society hooked to our computers, and it’s this fact that gives “Surrogates” its hum of plausibility.

In the future, is it really so much of a stretch to imagine a world in which we don’t need to leave our house in order to live full, fantastic lives? Given the option, some would take it. The problem with the movie is that while the action is swift, the set design is polished and the running time is enjoyably lean, the film leaves behind too many unanswered questions in its quest to drive the action forward. The movie conveniently overlooks obvious problems with becoming a surrogate — reproductive issues, anyone? — which will disappoint those who were seriously intrigued by the ideas that sparked the creation of the movie in the first place.

Grade: B-

On Blu-ray

HIGH CRIMES, directed by Carl Franklin. Written by Yuri Zeltser and Cary Bickley. 115 minutes. PG-13.

Carl Franklin’s “High Crimes” is one of those glossy, well-acted potboilers that doesn’t aim high enough.

Now out on Blu-ray disc, this 2002 film, from Yuri Zeltser and Cary Bickley’s script, stars Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman in their first screen pairing since 1997’s “Kiss the Girls,” but this time out, all they manage is an awkward hug.

The film gets off to a promising start with Judd as Claire Kubick, a fierce, high-powered attorney for a high-powered law firm whose high-powered life is about to be hit by a high-powered wrecking ball.

During an innocent evening of holiday shopping in San Francisco, Claire and her sensitive husband, Tom (Jim Caviezel), are ambushed not by the crowds, but by the FBI.

Apparently, Tom’s real name is Ron Chapman, something that shocks Claire to her core. Now, she must deal with the knowledge that the love of her life and the father of her unborn child allegedly went on a killing spree in a Salvadoran village in 1988, leaving nine women and children dead in his wake.

Is Tom-Ron a murderer? With the help of Charlie Grimes (Freeman), Claire fights the good fight to find out in spite of being beaten up, harassed and threatened by an evil band of military personnel determined to bring her to silence. Without a genuine surprise or, worse, a moment that doesn’t feel as if it was first approved by a test audience, “High Crimes” actually is only average, a film whose excellent cast proves the only heartbeat in a story that was dead on arrival.

Grade: C

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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