Film Friday: ‘Surrogates’ and ‘Fame’

by W. Andrew Powell

Radha Mitchell and Bruce Willis in 'Surrogates'

Radha Mitchell and Bruce Willis in 'Surrogates'

With fall slowly taking shape around us, the theatres are packed with new movies this weekend, including the sci-fi thriller Surrogates; the musical remake, Fame; the spacey horror film, Pandorum; Trailer Park Boys Countdown To Liquor Day; plus the dramas The Boys Are Back, and Coco avant Chanel open in limited release.

There are some amazing possibilities rumbling away inside of director Jonathan Mostow’s Surrogates. Just imagine a future where anyone with enough money can plug themselves into a machine that will allow them to control a robotic doppelganger of themselves, which they can send off into the world to work, live, and experience life without fear of getting hurt or sick.

Experiencing life through their surrogates, people effectively lock themselves away from the real world, changing pretty much everything about society. At the same time, crime drops and murders never happen, even as a sizable portion of the public calls the surrogate system abhorrent.

Starring Bruce Willis as FBI Agent Greer, the film opens with an introduction to this brave new world, showing us how Americans reached this point, and then things changes abruptly when two people are killed through their surrogates. Zapped by a blast of electricity, the surrogate and their human counterpoint both drop dead, and it’s up to Greer and his partner, played by Radha Mitchell, to figure out how this happened, and why.

Although the film raises some good philosophical points, and makes you reconsider how long you spend connected to various computers and electronics, there is no escaping the fact that this is a mediocre film at best; at worst, a disappointing mess of intriguing ideas.

Slipping between quick action, a few clever effects, and a very basic story, Surrogates has three big problems.

Right off the top, it’s hard to accept that anyone would want to plug into a machine for eight or more hours a day, never leaving their little surrogate “bed,” and never getting exercise. Set in a world not unlike our own, it’s hard not to sit there thinking, ‘Wouldn’t they be fatter? Or find it hard to stand up after a while?’

The second problem is that the script, and the general story, are almost impossible to believe. Without giving anything away, the motivations are ridiculous, with the whole film trying to stand on top of a few massive plot holes.

Last of all, I can’t help but feel that this could have been a singularly poignant film had the world been changed more to reflect the fact that it was now made for surrogates, not humans. Why does radio and television exist in the world when it could just be piped into a users head? I could see the world being a much more troubling place for a human, which would have made the film a lot more interesting as well.

While I didn’t hate Surrogates, it’s not the kind of film I’d recommend either. It’s simply a half-baked sci-fi story that needed to be a lot more daring. If you’re really curious, just wait for it to come out on DVD.

Also opening this weekend…

For anyone who grew up in the 80s, you’ll surely remember Fame. You know, “Fame, I’m gonna live forever, I’m gonna learn how to fly… high!”

Now that it’s been long enough for people to forget the original series, someone has decided to remake the film for a whole new generation, but the results have not fared so well in this decade.

Set at a New York City high school devoted to the performing arts, the film has a group of young dancers, singers, actors, and artists trying to prove themselves for their big shot at success. Along a difficult road they’ll have to prove if they really have what it takes, but of course, not everyone does.

With a huge cast of young stars, including Asher Book, Paul Iacono, and Naturi Naughto, the film is a sure-fire spectacle on the surface, but it’s not getting very good reviews, even if it is aimed at a younger generation.

As Peter Paras of E! Online wrote, “The ’80s sensation is reborn for the High School Musical generation. But sadly, this one’s all fame, no journey.”

Or, as Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune put it, “[Fame] is fitfully effective, but the story disappears in the editing bay. The movie has about as much heft as watching jesters and fire eaters at a village fair.”

Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster star in Pandorum, a sci-fi horror film about two astronauts stranded in a spacecraft that seemingly is not as empty as they might have hoped.

Unsure of how they got on the vessel, or what’s going on, the only way to actually figure out the truth is for one of them to venture into the heart of the ship and explore its heart, which holds a vital key to the survival of mankind.

Reviewers are far from impressed by the film, and I think Brad Miska of Bloody Disgusting put it best when he wrote, “Pandorum isn’t all that bad, it just isn’t good either. Fans of films like Event Horizon, Alien 3, and Resident Evil are sure to get their money worth, but I feel anyone outside of the ‘club’ is sure to be disappointed.”

Trailer Park Boys Countdown To Liquor Day
While I am definitely not a fan of the Trailer Park Boys, I know a lot of people really love these three weirdoes.

In their latest film, Ricky, Julian and Bubbles are set to be released from jail, and as far as they tell the parole board, they’re actually going to go straight this time.

Once they’re back at Sunnyvale, things have changed a lot though, and park supervisor Jim Lahey is a new man with visions of better days ahead. All of that is ruined when the boys return from prison, and although he’s been alcohol-free for two years, he’s now just counting down to the day he can drink again. This, coupled with the boys’ latest crime spree spells out another hijink-filled disaster looming on the horizon.

Opening in select theatres…

The Boys Are Back
Clive Owen stars in director Scott Hicks’ The Boys Are Back, about a father who has to deal with single-parenthood after his wife, who had two kids from a previous marriage, suddenly passes away. Co-starring Nicholas McNaulty and George MacKay as his young step-sons, the film is a funny, dramatic story of finding a new life, after everything you know has changed.

Coco avant Chanel
Diving into the story of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Coco avant Chanel (or Coco Before Chanel as it’s known elsewhere) is the tale of one of the most influential people in the fashion world and the things that shaped her life. Looking particularly at her youth, the film was directed by Anne Fontaine, who also directed The Girl From Monaco, and stars Audrey Tautou as Coco.

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