In the exposition-packed opening of Surrogates, we quickly learn a lot about the near future, a familiar-looking place that’s been transformed by the invention of robot surrogates. While almost everyone on Earth stays safe at home, their surrogates (or “surries”) go to work, ride subway cars with built-in charge ports, fuck with abandon, then go home to human controllers who have spent the day immobile. In short, the entire world, apart from a band of holdouts led by Ving Rhames, has become addicted to a version of World Of Warcraft brought to the real world. All thrills have become virtual in exchange for safety, sloth, and the chance to inhabit bodies made perfect by technology. In the process, incidents of crime and racism have receded almost to nothing. (And sales of Red Bull and Sun Chips have presumably spiked.)
Adapted from a comic series by writer Robert Venditti and artist Brett Weldele, Surrogates creates a world it has little interest in exploring beyond the boundaries set by a fairly dull whodunit. Bruce Willis stars as a Boston detective called in to investigate the first homicide in recent memory when a flesh-and-blood biker uses a weapon capable of killing flesh-and-blood users through their surrogates. No stranger to surrogate use himself, he investigates the crime looking like a plastic-skinned, floppy-haired version of the Willis who starred in Moonlighting, while his bald, goateed true self sits at home looking like late-period Billy Joel. But he’s already distrustful of excessive surry use, thanks to a wife (Rosamund Pike), who treats her flesh-and-blood self as an annoyance, and the deeper he plunges into the machinations behind his clean, safe world, the more secrets he discovers.
Director Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3) keeps hustling the film past its more intriguing moments—as when Pike looks repulsed at Willis’ insistence that he use his real body—in the service of a plot that doesn’t stir much interest. But then neither does the movie, which relentlessly plods from one dour moment to the next, coming to life only in a late-film car chase that takes the possibilities of a world filled with robots to an absurd extreme. Then we’re back to Willis playing another cop uncovering another mystery in another high production values/low-impact thriller, a too-familiar sight in worlds past, present, or future.