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Time Out New York Project: Issue #731, October 1-7, 2009
Dir. Jonathan Mostow. 2009. PG-13. 88mins. Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike.
This cagey and clever speculative fiction casts Bruce Willis in dual roles that allow him to show off his Bogart-level prowess. He’s FBI agent Harvey Greer, one man split between two selves: a paunchy, sad-eyed hunk of fallible human flesh, and a flawlessly formed, near-indestructible robotic surrogate that does almost all of his outer-world living. It’s a terrific joke, as if—to push the Bogie comparison further—Casablanca’s Rick Blaine were the idealized, fraternizing face of In a Lonely Place’s Dixon Steele.
This is the reality inhabited by the film’s characters, most of whom prefer to have mechanical avatars do their daily grinding for them. Save a few pockets of “human only” resistance, Earth is a crime free utopia…until two surrogates, and their respective human operators, are murdered by an unknown assailant.
What follows is pulp made near-profound through director Jonathan Mostow’s sure-handed guidance. It never quite reaches the heights of his 1997 action film Breakdown, but—as with that film’s star, Kurt Russell—Mostow elicits from Willis a grizzled and affecting everyman performance. Their work is certain to go unrecognized because it’s so seemingly effortless and contained within a picture that embraces B-movie trappings rather than unduly elevating them. Surrogates is an A-list blockbuster that would fit, damn proudly, on the lower half of a double bill.—Keith Uhlich