“Surrogates” flirts with big ideas about virtual reality, the dangers of technology on the human soul and the government’s control over electronic communications but ultimately tosses them all aside for some good old fashioned chase scenes and shoot-outs.
Thankfully, director Jonathan Mostow (“Terminator 3,” “Breakdown”) makes the proceedings such fun that you’re willing to forfeit the smart satire this might have been for the trashy adventure flick that it is.
In the near future, most of the human population stays at home and lives their lives through surrogates, life-like androids that go out into the big, bad world and interact with each other while their operators lie in bed and control their avatar via headset. Subsequently, the world has become a cleaner and seemingly calmer place, which is why it’s such a big deal when an assailant fries a surrogate — and, by extension, its human operator.
FBI agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell) begin investigating and find that the intended victim was scientist Canter (James Cromwell), who invented the surrogates, only to get expelled from the corporation that got rich manufacturing them.
Does someone want revenge against Canter? Is the anti-surrogate group of revolutionaries led by the mysterious Prophet (Ving Rhames) involved? Or could this tie into the military’s use of surrogates as cannon fodder in various global hot spots?
There’s enough of a whodunit to string things together, but “Surrogates” is more interested in what happens when you plow through a crowd of robots during a car chase (they tend to pile up on the hood rather than bounce off) or how far a cop’s surrogate can jump from pillar to post while chasing down a human perp.
Still, the movie occasionally shows an interest in the ideas being raised here — Greer’s wife (Rosamund Pike) uses her surrogate partly as a way to avoid being face-to-face with her husband since the tragic death of their child, and the disparity between what people actually look like versus the robot face they present to the world is played for laughs as well. (It’s the futuristic equivalent of what goes on every day in chat rooms.)
There’s a great look to the film — the art directors have made everyday life look just a little sleeker and shinier than our own world without going overboard on the “hey, it’s the future!” technology, and whether it’s latex, lighting or CG, the makeup artists succeed in making the surrogates look just the tiniest bit rubbery and artificial compared to the people, most of whom have let themselves go since they never go out into the light of day.
One can only wonder what, say, Paul Verhoeven in “Starship Troopers” mode could have done in adapting this graphic novel to the big screen, but as is, “Surrogates” is consistently entertaining and always interesting to look at. If nothing else, it’s a much cooler examination of virtual living than the recent “Gamer.”
Follow msnbc.com Movie Critic Alonso Duralde at .