'Surrogates' a robotic retread - The Explorer: El Sol

'Surrogates' a robotic retread

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Posted: Tuesday, September 29, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:31 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Associated Press

'Surrogates'

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and a drug-related scene. Two stars out of four.

"Surrogates” is itself a surrogate, a kind of stand-in for many of the sci-fi movies of the recent past: In it, you'll recognize the ideas of "Blade Runner,” "Minority Report” and even "WALL-E.”

The Bruce Willis action flick opens with two murders — the first in years in a quasi-present day Boston. Technology has advanced enough so that nearly everyone has a surrogate — or "surry” for short. While reclining at home and plugged into a machine, people control a robotic version of themselves that safely maneuvers through the world in all of its slings and arrows.

The surrogates are a fantasy version of one's self — cosmetically perfect, thinner, younger and sometimes of the opposite sex. (This means, most importantly, that we have a blond Bruce Willis on our hands.)

Yes, like James Bond, John McClane has gotten the Ken doll treatment. For an aging action star, the pseudo Willis is almost a pun, a wink at moviegoers' need for stars that never age.

Willis is a police detective named Greer who, along with his partner (Radha Mitchell), is trying to solve the murders which, though committed on surrogates, also "liquefied” the brains of their human operators.

The police, too, have surrogates. When Greer — himself, not his doppelganger — rolls out of his bedroom after a long night as himself, the attractive surrogate of his wife (Rosamund Pike) sighs at the sight of her bald and wrinkly husband.

The surrogates are a clear metaphor for the virtual reality that's already upon us. It's a subject popular in Hollywood these days, given the recent Gerard Butler film "Gamer” and James Cameron's upcoming "Avatar.”

Having a robotic stand-in has some obvious perks: Sexuality is less inhibited. If you fall, you don't scrape your elbows. And if your helicopter crashes, you don't die.

But this crime-less utopia is also a superficial wasteland, devoid of meaningfulness. As the investigation into the murders goes deeper, a plot to destroy the network becomes unfurled.

It has something to do with VSI, the company that created surrogates. One of the founders of VSI (James Cromwell) is having inventor's remorse.

"Surrogates,” is adapted from a graphic novel by Robert Venditti. If anyone hasn't noticed yet, graphic novels are — for better or worse — the new pulp fiction.

Like those hard-boiled novels of the '40s that Hollywood couldn't get enough of, graphic novels are fueling what once would have been called B-movies. At its best, that's what "Surrogates” is: a quality B-movie, pulpy and very much reflective of its times. The film isn't shy about its feelings about technology — it's time to unplug.

'Fame'

Rated PG for thematic material including teen drinking, a sexual situation and language. 107 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

The "reinvention” of the 1980 high school musical "Fame” — please, people, don't call it a remake — stays faithful to the spirit and structure of Alan Parker's original while sucking out all the raciness.

There's no nudity in this PG-rated version, no one gets an abortion. No one even lights a single cigarette. So no, it's not exactly the most realistic depiction of modern high-school life.

But at the same time, dancer and choreographer Kevin Tancharoen, making his feature directing debut, doesn't turn "Fame” into the kind of slick, overly edited eye candy you might expect. It's stylized, yes, and it moves really fluidly while still maintaining some urban grittiness.

And in a world where people aspire for instant recognition by making idiots of themselves on reality TV, there's still something appealing about the idea of working hard for artistic glory — potentially failing and suffering rejection, but persevering nonetheless.

Starting with Debbie Allen's famous "you got big dreams, you want fame” speech over the opening titles, "Fame” follows a group of aspiring singers, dancers, actors and musicians from their auditions for New York's competitive High School of Performing Arts until their graduation four years later.

Some of these kids are obviously going to make it — they're going to live forever, as the song goes — and some aren't. It's pretty easy to figure out. Similarly, you can see some of the plot developments coming from a mile away in Allison Burnett's script, even if you've never seen the original. You just know that the moment Denise's strict parents see her on stage, singing in a way they never knew she could, they'll achieve a newfound appreciation for her talent.

Familiar? Yes, but not nearly as vapid as most of the musical material out there that encourages teens to believe fame is all that matters.

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