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David Swindle
Grade: A-

If you're reading this review chances are you can relate to the subject being satirized in "Surrogates."

The new sci-fi thriller starring Bruce Willis is based off of a graphic novel written by Robert Venditti. In an interview with Venditti described the inspiration for his comic:

"In grad school, I read a book about people addicted to the Internet. The players would lose their jobs and sometimes even their marriages because they couldn't tear themselves away from the personas they created for themselves online. It was a thought that kind of rattled around in my head for a while, until one day it dawned on me that if you were somehow able to create a persona and send it out into the real world-where it could go to work for you, and run your errands, and so on-then you would never have to go back to being yourself. What would that world be like? That's where the core of The Surrogates began."

In the graphic novel's film adaptation Lionel Canter (James Cromwell,) a disabled inventor develops a new technology which allows those like himself to live more "normal" lives through controlling a human-like robot called a surrogate.

Within a few years the invention explodes in popularity and Canter's corporation takes surrogacy mainstream beyond those confined to wheelchairs. Soon a majority of the population begins living their lives from their bedroom. Society is transformed. Crime and disease are reduced. And everyone gets to look exactly how he or she wants.

There is resistance, though. Ving Rhames is The Prophet, a dreadlocked cult leader who organizes groups of humans in reservations which ban surrogates.

This conflict between surrogate users and so-called "meat sacks" (a slur against those who live life normally) is exacerbated by an event which has the potential to change this brave new world. Two surrogates are destroyed and their operators are mysteriously killed as a result. It's the first murder in years. One of the key points of surrogacy - being able to escape the danger of death - is put into jeopardy.

Investigating the murder is Agent Tom Greer (Willis) and his partner, Agent Jennifer Peters (Radha Mitchell.) As Greer and Peters dig deeper into the crime they uncover a conspiracy which threatens to push The Prophet to really go forward with the "revolution" that until now had been only talk.

This is intellectually-engaging science fiction, not unlike the innovative "Moon" which I reviewed a few weeks ago. "Surrogates" uses the genre to address psychological and sociological issues - in this case questions of identity and the nature of what constitutes living.

The film's principle problems are tolerable. Greer is only moderately developed. The strained relationship between him and his wife is hinted at but for the most part he fails to distinguish himself as particularly unique. Willis's performance is about what one would expect from him: sympathetic but nothing groundbreaking. Some of the narrative's twists are also hardly surprising..

These issues aside, "Surrogates" survives on the strength of its premise, the excitement of its action, the creativity of its visual tricks, and especially its emotionally-satisfying climax. As the film was nearing its conclusion I was entertained and pleased but leaning toward a B or perhaps a B+. Then director Jonathan Mostow unleashed a gripping ending which proved that his film was very much alive.

Not only does "Surrogates" provide for an exciting science fiction thriller but it also gives us a chance to confront the way technology is changing the way we live. The world of "Surrogates" is far away but in many ways we're already approaching it.