PLOT: Fourteen years from now, the technology that allows people to move inanimate prosthetics with their minds has advanced by leaps and bounds. In this brave new world, people sit in “stim chairs” for most of the day, while living through an idealized, robotic version of themselves. The son of the man who created this fantastically creepy technology and his one night stand (a fat guy in a girl-bot) has been zapped to death by a mysterious man. And the users themselves have had their brains liquefied in their chairs. FBI agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell) are sent to investigate, uncovering a plot that threatens the very idea of surrogacy.
REVIEW: I love the idea of this movie. I get nauseous if I'm away from my iPhone for more than ten minutes and I check my Facebook page hourly. I understand the dependence on technology thing. But here's the issue with stories like this. There is no way to turn back the clock. We cling to these new inventions for a reason. If they truly sucked, we'd ditch them like the minidisc. There are really only two ways to end this type of story. Things go on the way they have been because it's all too much of a convenience to give up, or there is some kind of apocalyptic event that tosses our plugged-in asses back to the pre-cell phone, pre-social networking Dark Ages. It makes the whole thing too predictable. (And I'm sorry, but if you're going to show me shots from the end of the movie in the trailer, I'm going to figure out which ending you've decided to use long before you want me to. Kind of takes away from the “what decision will our stalwart hero make” suspense.)
The story itself is confusing. I'll give away far to many spoilers if I try to take you through the twist and turns, but I heard a lot of “Wait, which one was he helping?” and “That's who had her killed?” as I left the theater. I get that they were trying to do a lot of things in what is a pretty damn short movie. (It's 88 minutes long.) Explain what has happened in the past fourteen years (in an opening montage that is actually pretty effective), give us background on the main characters, convince the audience that technology is bad and will take away our humanity, throw in effects worthy of a Willis flick and give it a bit of a twist at the end. All of this in addition to airbrushing the hell out of the actors.
The CGI is super creepy. And I suppose there was really no other way to do it. We're supposed be slightly repulsed by these idealized-self robots. I assume that's because if they look too human, the audience isn't really going to see the problem with them. Having to make sure we get the “humanity has become a bunch of robots” message means the actors had to overdo it when playing as their surrogates. No one moves their faces, including the usually expressive Willis. I'm pretty certain he was directed to do that, because at certain moments, he almost looks like he's going to crawl out of his skin trying to keep up the deadpan.
I don't believe Mitchell ever actually has an expression, and Rosamund Pike who plays Greer's wife Maggie, does nothing more than channel Barbie with the doe eyed expression plastered on her face. It's like the world was injected with Botox. They might as well have cast Nicole Kidman and Marcia Cross. It would have saved them a lot of time in post. They also walk strangely. Greer seems to channel the T-1000 from the TERMINATOR franchise as he walks stiffly away from a helicopter crash, staring forward with no expression. (Director Jonathan Mostow directed the third in the series, by the way.)
It all looks good, I admit. Well, not Willis's terrible blond wig, but the rest of it makes total visual sense. They gave me just enough info on surrogate culture to keep me intrigued, and steered clear of too many obvious “look at the craziness of the future” gags. If the story had made more sense, this could have been a huge success. The world alone was entertaining. But aside from the confusing plot points, there was very little character development. There just didn't seem to be time for it. We are quickly shown that Greer and Maggie have lost a son by having Willis stumble into his room/shrine and give us a sad face. We're told that Maggie is obsessed with this new lifestyle and refuses to leave the room as a “meat bag”. Greer misses his real wife and that makes him sad. But it doesn't seem to be enough of a reason to make the decision he does at the end of the film.
Humanity is extra plastic-y now, but no more depraved than it's always been. Willis does his best with the character, and his best is damn good, but without changing the script or adding a half an hour to the film, there was little he could do. Mitchell's character is nothing more than a place holder and a plot device. We never learn anything about her. All we know is that she's a plastic blond FBI agent and that her real self is a bit frumpy with bad teeth. (Most real people are kind of gross in this film. I can see why they'd want to be spiffed up a bit.) You can have the coolest premise in the world, but if I don't care about the characters, a helicopter explosion and sight gags aren't going to save the story.
I wanted to love it. I was somewhat entertained. I'd like to go check out the graphic novel it is loosely based on. But it left me as emotionally cold as an unplugged surrogate.
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