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‘Surrogates’ is a Poor Substitute

Half a howler but not nearly funny enough, the seriously intended (or at least somberly mounted) Surrogates naturally wants to reap some of the praise and permanent fandom accorded Blade Runner and RoboCop. Instead, it more resembles Michael Crichton's Looker (in which sinister surgery further "perfects" dishy advertising models), one of the more risible misfires of 1981.

Despite bumpy execution likely to have detractors yelling "déjà boo," Surrogates oozes possibilities. The hook: Even if you or I look like Quasimodo or his female equivalent, technology will now allow us to attach ourselves to machines and live vicariously through our robotic duplicates. We can even take on physical characteristics of someone else of any age if desired.

A mixed-up inventor (James Cromwell) has launched this folly, which leads to decreases in crime, disease and discrimination. (The script never says whether the innovation has made current Hollywood movies any better.)

Thus, we get two Bruce Willises here. The real one, a cop, is the standard weathered Bruce, bald again and still wearing what looks like used face stubble. His surrogate, though, has wavy bottle-colored hair and the porcelain skin of a hairdresser.

Female surrogates, including Willis' partner (Radha Mitchell), also have flawless but fake-looking skin, and there's a potentially great scene involving Mrs. Willis (Rosamund Pike). Her job: applying "fresh faces" at a salon where employees first peel off customers' conventionally attractive faces, exposing the points and plugs underneath.

But the movie's tone is rarely satirical and is more concerned with political intrigue involving pockets of anti-surrogate protesters who enjoy bludgeoning the machines. They're led by Ving Rhames, sporting the hair weave you'd expect of someone calling himself "The Prophet."

Coming so soon after the powerful us-and-them dynamics of District 9, this is minor stuff, and the movie amazingly doesn't even address the sexual ramifications (good or bad) of a surrogate society that eschews "ugly." But at least it explains the week's major mystery. Obviously, it must have been a Tom DeLay surrogate who was shaking his booty on "Dancing With the Stars."

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