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Surrogates

Directed by Jonathan Mostow

Written by John Brancato, Michael Ferris, Robert Venditti, and Brett Weldele

Starring Bruce Willis and James Cromwell

PG-13

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Imagine a sci-fi thriller that is original, witty, and well directed. Imagine watching a sci-fi thriller without fear of cheesy dialogue, pointless chases, and imminent apocalyptic doom. Now imagine the opposite, and that sums up Surrogates, a whodunit graphic novel adaptation starring Bruce Willis and directed by Jonathan Mostow (U-571, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines).

In the movie people use surrogate robots, actual avatars that interact with the world around them, from the comfort of their own homes. Nothing bad can ever happen to the human operator; crime falls drastically, and the world is a safer place.

There is, however, an anti-surrogate movement with pockets of resistance throughout the world, led by a prophet in dreadlocks who preaches unplugging from machines and living as humans. Dreads, as his followers are called, live in anarchic communes where everyone is happy, healthy, and most importantly, organic.

Willis plays FBI Agent Greer, who is investigating a bizarre murder — the destruction of the surrogate led to the death of its operator, a seemingly impossible consequence. Along the way, we find out that Greer lost a child in an accident, the inventor of surrogate robots was fired from his company by the Board of Directors, and the Army developed a magical superweapon that can kill the surrogate robot as well as whoever is controlling it, leaving the operator in a pool of liquefied brain.

The movie is tied together disjointedly with cliché plot devices and forced humor. Eventually, the viewers find out that the good guys are actually the bad guys, and vice-versa. Willis takes the moral high ground as he saves the world yet again…Yippee-ki-yay.

Surrogates is the same old sci-fi, futuristic movie that delves into the question of letting technology take over our lives and how to correct that addiction. Of course there are obligatory action sequences involving CGI and attractive faces and hot bodies to make the men in the audience happy.

I do have to give the movie some credit where it’s due. It was filmed in various towns around Boston, and a shot of the Memorial Bridge overlooking TD Banknorth Garden (maybe this is stock footage) filled the theater with cheers. The idea of unplugging ourselves from machines is surprisingly relevant, with so many ways for people to connect with technology. The movie is basically a real version Second Life with models strutting up and down Boston streets. There are even ways to do drugs as a robot (a process involving a flask of electricity and shocking yourself).

It’s important to step away from a machine that allows individuals to interact with someone without actually being physically present. Perhaps I’ll take advantage of the last warm days to ride my bike instead of watching YouTube videos, play football instead of watching it on ESPN360, and listen to street performers in the Commons instead of playing Rock Band as my hip John Lennon-esque avatar.