Remember that one movie where everyone is plugged into machines that created a large-scale simulacra of the world until a single man rises up and frees all human consciousness? Or how about the one where the cop searches through a future city hunting down androids who are attempting to kill their creator? Or the one where Bruce Willis saves the world from a technological menace? If you guessed “Matrix,” “Blade Runner” or “Live Free or Die Hard,” think again. These plotlines sorta, kinda describe Willis’s newest effort, “Surrogates.”
Willis plays Tom Greer, an FBI agent with a prototypically tragic past and a hairpiece bad enough to embarrass Nic Cage. He lives in a world where over 98 percent of the population has embraced surrogates: Everyone stays at home and plugs into personalized, lookalike androids. The surrogates make dangerous activities safe and allow for idealized versions of the self, making racism and oddly enough, crime, a thing of the past. But one day, the son of the man who invented the androids turns up dead, shot by what appears to be a futuristic dustbuster. The Black and Decker-inspired ray gun somehow melts the young man’s brain through his wireless uplink. Greer catches the case and searches for answers only to discover that this isn’t just a murder but rather the first piece of a much larger puzzle.
This puzzle is plagued with big holes in logic, and the basic premise of the film is both overly simple and totally convoluted. Ninety-eight percent of the world uses these robot things. They are so omnipresent that those who don’t use the machines are seen as religious fanatics. But really, 98 percent of the population? I mean, why are people in the Congo, where the yearly income hovers around $800, going to buy an android replica? Also, the film alleges that the existence of the androids has stopped all crime. But at the same time, the FBI seems well-funded and murder is not unheard of.
I suppose that most of these criticisms qualify as nitpicking, but it’s impossible not to notice any of the scores of major flaws and inconsistencies that pop up over the course of the interminable runtime. The filmmakers stretch out this threadbare story into an 88-minute feature that plays more like a solid two and a half hours of plodding meaninglessness.
It’s not a film totally without merit. About once every 20 minutes something original happens, and some of the structural elements of the character arcs play, but you’ve already seen this movie, and you’ve seen it done better.