Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Surrogates" / "Ong-bak 2: The Beginning"

Surrogates - Directed by Jonathan Mostow, starring Bruce Willis, James Cromwell, Radha Mitchell, and Ving Rhames - Rated PG-13

Surrogates isn't perfect (it's far from it, actually), but it's good enough for The Evil Kurgan.

Surrogates, Bruce Willis’ latest, is an entertaining, yet unoriginal and problematic, sci-fi film. It takes place about fifteen years in the future, where robotic surrogates handle the day to day life for 99% of the world’s population, while their owners control them from their homes. Think of the world like a live action chat room, where everyone can choose what they look like.

First off, if you liked I, Robot, then you’ll probably like Surrogates. The similarities between the two films delve into rip off territory. There is a giant corporation that owns and distributes all of the surrogates. There is an unlikely murder that could topple the entire system. The main character doesn’t like the way the surrogates have changed the world. The most glaring similarity, however, is a casting decision. James Cromwell, who played the father of robotics in I, Robot, basically plays the same character in Surrogates. It’s impossible to ignore the connections.

Unoriginality aside, the film does not hold up well under close scrutiny. To start, that 99% statistic is quite ridiculous. Surrogates are not free or given out by the government. Are we to believe that almost everyone in the world can afford even a low end model of a surrogate? I somehow doubt that third world countries faced with massive poverty and starvation would be able to embrace the surrogate lifestyle.

On top of the 99% stat the film also makes the claim that crime has nearly disappeared. I’m sorry if this sounds cynical, but I think that if people were able to live their lives through robotic entities they would be more likely to engage in illegal activities, since morality would go out the window with some people since actual humans aren’t being harmed.

I could go into more and more problems with the scenario of the film, but there is one more issue I need to point out. Ving Rhames, who plays an anti-surrogate human rights leader, already has a goofy look (the usually bald actor sports a massive beard and dreadlocks) but every time he speaks, even when he’s giving a radio address, he holds his hands up like Ricky Bobby during his first interview in Talladega Nights. When you see it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Because of that, I just could not take his character seriously.

Even with these issues, I still liked this film. I’m a fan of Bruce Willis and he does his beat-up hero thing here. It’s nothing new and I’m fine with that. No one pulls off the bloodied and grizzled look better than Willis.

But Willis doesn’t start off grizzled. Like everyone else in the film, he has a surrogate. The surrogate looks a bit shiny and fake (and the hair looks kind of out of place) and he is clean cut, with no imperfections to be seen. And that is the look of the film, which is unsettling, in a good way. Everyone looks like they are straight off a runway, dressed in the finest clothing. While their operators look haggard, never leaving the house.

This presents, as most sci-fi films do, some social commentary. In this case, the question asked is: What constitutes life? Surrogates make things easier and everyone is beautiful, so why should you ever leave the house? This could be applied to today’s culture in a way. The separate lives that people live on the internet in social applications and chat rooms. At what point is the line crossed? At what point to people accept Facebook and MySpace as a substitute for actual socialization? Is this really that serious of a problem? Probably not. But a good sci-fi movie makes you at least consider where our current society could end up.

Surrogates presents a possible future to a ridiculous scale that could have been fixed by just saying the United States had embraced surrogates, or at least drop the percentage down to a more realistic number. Seriously, even the internet is not used by 99% of the population. So if you can’t afford internet service, how are you going to afford your own robot? I mention the statistic problem again because it hurts any meaning the film tries to present.

I was able to ignore the faults for the most part and I found Surrogates to be entertaining. The style of the film helps out a bit as well. The short runtime (88 minutes) was nice as well since these types of movies can get bloated. Surrogates is a good film, but if the screenwriters had spent more time thinking about the world they were creating, then they could’ve ended up with a great film.

Ong-bak 2: The Beginning - Directed by and starring Tony Jaa - Rated R

Just too much story and not enough fighting.

This, like World's Greatest Dad, was released on video on demand services before it starts its limited theatrical run. I was looking forward to this because I am a huge fan of Jaa's previous films (Ong-bak and The Protector [Tom yum goong]) and I expected this film to be just as full of impressive fight sequences and stunts as Jaa's other work. I came away disappointed, however.

First off, even though this movie has the number 2 in the title, it is not a sequel. The first film took place in the present day with Jaa elbowing and kneeing his way through a crime syndicate. This one takes place centuries ago. That was the first red flag for me. I am just not into the Asian historical epics anymore since the flood of them after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came out. I certainly didn't want to see Tony Jaa trying his hand out in the genre, since it requires sword fighting and other weapon based martial arts. Don't get me wrong, Jaa is impressive with a sword, it's just that his stunt work is impressive because it looks like he is really hurting people when he knees them in the face whereas a sword slash requires film trickery (or skulduggery, if you will).

The film does have plenty of hand to hand combat and it looks great. But rather than trying to outdo himself with even greater fights, Jaa decides to add more story. That's a huge problem, since the story is kind of a mess. Plus, who cares about story in a Tony Jaa movie?

I'm not saying this movie is awful or anything, it just focuses too much on the story. Under usual circumstances that wouldn't be considered a bad thing. But hey, I just want to see Tony Jaa deliver beatdown after beatdown, I don't really care why he's delivering it. If you're a fan, wait for this on DVD, if you have no idea who Tony Jaa is, then do yourself a favor and check out the first Ong-bak or Tom yum goong, you won't be disappointed.


  1. nice review of surrogates. I felt pretty much the same and also use the word grizzled in my review lol.

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