In the second of a new series, guff-film buff Diane Spencer sorts the cinematic wheat from the chaff, then throws all the wheat away. This month: wigs and defecating robots abound in 2009 sci-fi duffer Surrogates.
Warning: contains plot spoilers. And wigs.
Surrogates is set in a version of the near future where everyone in North America operates realistic robots that resemble young, skinny versions of themselves. This saves them from ever having to leave the house.
It works something like this: you, the human, lie at home in a special recliner wearing pyjamas and a headset through which you control you, the robot. You the robot can then go to work, go shopping, meet friends, chase suspects and fire guns, all from the comfort of your own home. If the human you gets out of shape, develops age spots and/or agoraphobia, it doesn’t matter because your robot self is still gorgeous: hence the ‘not leaving the house’ stuff.
The actors therefore play two versions of their characters: their plastic robotic selves and their washed-out, yellow-toothed human versions. It’s fascinating watching the actors play their robots. The make-up is a little too orange and everyone moves their head like an unblinking meerkat at a table tennis match. Then there are the robots’ wigs, all of which are appalling. The first time we see Bruce Willis he appears to be sporting a rug made from the collective scalps of Take That circa 1994. Clearly there are no good wigs anywhere, here or in the future, which has upset me as this means I can no longer legitimately laugh at Donald Trump.
Another robot quirk: toilets. At one point a robot scientist stares blankly into the distance for a while before telling Bruce Willis that he’s just been “in the can”. It seems that, in the future, people stop and stare like toddlers when they need to relieve themselves: it seems you have to log out to log off. Similarly, every time the human controlling the surrogate reaches some kind of emotional peak and is in danger of confronting their feelings they also go offline, leaving the surrogate frozen and staring ahead.
If you lived in that world and your robot mate shut down you wouldn’t know whether they were sobbing their heart out or dashing to the en suite with a newspaper under their arm.
The film’s kick off point is a murder – the first to have occurred in years. Apparently having a robot means people are better behaved, mainly because they are chipped like dogs and also because no one wants to use their pretty robot to smash through the walls of banks. FBI agent Bruce Willis investigates but the more conspiracies he uncovers, the more his robot replica begins to break down. He’s married to Rosamund Pike who uses her Stepford wifebot to cope with her depression and refuses to emerge from her bedroom cocoon.
Bruce Willis has always enjoyed mixing marital therapy with gun fights and facial injuries so between uncovering a dastardly plot to kill millions of Americans he keeps going home, each time a bit more smashed up, in an effort to ‘reach’ his human wife. It seems he can withstand bullets, car crashes and homicidal loonies hurling parking meters at him, but can’t work out how to open his wife’s bedroom door.
Surrogates is laden with predictable plot ‘twists’ but it’s surprisingly watchable and quite heartfelt towards the end (honest). It’s also nice to see older Bruce Willis playing an older man – he actually demonstrates a wonderful frailty in this role.
But glaring questions abound. Such as: why does Ving Rhames have dreadlocks? And why, when they need to stop a computer transmitting a virus, does nobody try pulling out a plug or an Internet cable? It’s not a flipping bomb. Also, why is there no middle ground between characters? You’re either an obsessive robot addict or a gap-toothed hillbilly without a microwave.
If I lived in this world, I would be a part-time surrogate. I’d use my glamorous robotdolly to clean the toilet, or cut onions, and drag my pallid, food-spattered self out to the shops to inflict my bogeys on the general public. But that’s because I’m a people person.
Would I watch it again: Definitely.
Would I recommend it to a friend: Yeah.
Notes: The surrogates go to a nightclub and no one does ‘the robot’.
Diane Spencer is a standup comedian and writer. Her favourite genres include comedy, horror and sci-fi. Loves halloumi.