dir Jonathan Mostow
scr Michael Ferris, John Brancato
prd Max Handelman, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman
with Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, James Cromwell, Boris Kodjoe, Ving Rhames, James Francis Ginty, Jack Noseworthy, Devin Ratray, Michael Cudlitz, Jeffrey De Serrano, Helena Mattsson
release US/UK 25.Sep.09
09/US Touchstone 1h29
On the case: Mitchell and Willis, sort of.

pike cromwell rhames
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Surrogates Lean and sleek, this futuristic thriller propels us entertainingly through its story without pausing for breath. Perhaps director Mostow was hoping we wouldn't notice how clunky the script is, with its rudimentary dialog and paper-thin plot.

It's been 14 years since a scientist (Cromwell) invented surrogates, robots controlled by brainwaves that let us experience anything. Now some 99 percent of the population has one, and people spend their lives in darkened rooms living virtually. Then FBI Agent Greer (Willis) and his partner Peters (Mitchell) discover that a guy (Noseworthy) has a weapon that can kill both surrogates and their human controllers. But the hunt for this weapon opens old wounds with the humans-only religious fanatics who live on reservations and follow the word of their Prophet (Rhames).

Visually, this film is seriously eye-catching, as we meet Greer and Peters as surrogates, so Willis looks like he did in his fit Moonlighting days (plus floppy blonde hair) and Mitchell looks like a bombshell super-agent. The same goes for their boss (Kodjoe) and Greer's estranged wife (Pike). This lets each actor add a playful twist to both incarnations of his or her character. Meanwhile, other characters have surrogates that look nothing like them, or in one case have a collection to choose from.

The script grazes against provocative issues of eternal youth and physical perfection, but never dips beneath the surface, opting instead for a hackneyed subplot about marital angst caused by parental grief. In other words, the film never remotely develops the possibilities it raises, opting instead for a standard thriller plot with such heavy signposting that it's impossible not to solve every mystery far before the characters figure things out.

At least the effects are great, and Mostow never wastes any time at all, briskly racing through the story with a few huge action set pieces and a superb visual punch in the climactic sequence. But in addition to a little more subtext, the film could have used more humour and edge; it feels watered down and safe, and also rather choppy as it leaps past gaping plot holes on the way to a nonsensical denouement. Even so, it's pretty good fun.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 23.Sep.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall