Kicking the Tweets
Search
Sunday
Oct182009

Capitalism: A Love Story, 2009

Dead Peasants Society

As a person with liberal politics, I agree with many of the positions Michael Moore takes in his new film Capitalism: A Love Story. I’ve been a fan of Moore’s going all the way back to his General Motors expose, Roger & Me, and appreciate the passion and creativity he employs in his art; I say “art” because Moore doesn’t make straight documentaries: they’re message-driven performance pieces that happen to incorporate real-life footage in support of his arguments. He labors in the gonzo spirit of Hunter S. Thompson, revealing hard truths by way of disarming his audience with shtick. Unfortunately, Capitalism—and, to a lesser extent, his last film, Sicko—succumbs to that shtick, muddling his thesis in the process. As a liberal, I’m with him; as a film critic, I think Capitalism kind of stinks.

I should qualify that by saying if you’re the kind of Michael Moore fan who sees no inherent problems with destroying capitalism and starting over with a Jesus-style commune planet—better yet, if you actually believe that’s possible—then you may fall in love with Capitalism. However, if you’re a discerning filmgoer who pays attention not only during movies but also in real life (by, say, keeping up with current events) you’re likely to find this movie a frustrating exercise in terms of both storytelling and message.

Unlike Moore’s earlier works, there’s no through-line in Capitalism. Roger & Me began as a quest to interview GM CEO Roger Smith; Bowling for Columbine explored gun culture via the 1999 high school massacre; Fahrenheit 9/11 sought to lay out how we wound up in Iraq. All three films had central characters that we followed and learned about in-depth enough to understand how they factored into Moore’s stated goals. Capitalism opens with a montage of bank camera footage capturing robberies, and leads into a montage of people from around the country being evicted from their homes. I guessed that these would be our “protagonists”, but right off the bat, their stories had problems.

We watch as one family videotapes a group of sheriff’s cars and county officials driving up to their house to evict them. The ostensible head of the house calls the sheriff’s office and says that the officers will have to come inside and remove them—peaceably—from the home; which they do. While the deputies work to get inside by removing the door locks, the camera whips around the room as the family members identify themselves, like they’re getting ready to film evidence of a brutal police raid. The sheriff’s men come into the house without brandishing weapons or screaming at anybody, and the guy shooting the film mutters over and over, “This is America, folks”. This scene took me back to my early teen years when my Dad was evicted from his home for not paying the mortgage. The sheriff showed up with a bunch of people and began joylessly setting all of my father’s things out onto the lawn. I never considered this an egregious act of state power over an innocent prole; I simply thought, “So this is what happens when you fall way behind on your house payments.”

Perhaps that’s heartless; perhaps not. The point is that Moore never gave the back-story on this family, or why they felt they should be ready for Ruby Ridge Part Two. The footage was apparently not Moore’s own, but he could have at least followed up with the family: why were they being evicted? Was it for not paying the mortgage or for something else? Did they get suckered into an ARM during the housing boom, or were they simply hedonistic slackers (as many of Moore’s critics might argue)? Were they given enough notice between the time the eviction was served and the day the sheriff showed up with his “goons”? Moore could have also, I don’t know, gotten both sides of the story by talking with the sheriff’s department. Was that big of an entourage typical, or were the officers perhaps worried that the people inside might not have planned to leave without a fight? The point is, I wasn’t given nearly enough information to care about these people, and the whole scene felt like a dirty trick.

The same holds true for the rest of the evicted families in the movie. We’re meant to feel bad for people who are forced to sell or burn their possessions—as well as for a family who must sleep in the back of a moving truck—but without the benefit of learning how they came to those situations. Michael Moore would have made a much stronger case had he bothered to fill in the audience and get them behind his struggling heroes instead of wasting time with cute stunts like wrapping The New York Stock Exchange in crime scene tape.

Capitalism has a pretty strong middle, though. It’s here that we’re given some history of the financial pyramid scheme that nearly destroyed the economy, along with a list of the key players—on both sides of the aisle—that birthed it.

We also meet a couple of families who learned that their deceased loved ones’ former employers took out “Dead Peasants Insurance” policies on them, essentially betting on their untimely deaths and then reaping multi-million dollar payouts—that's right, the companies, not the families; all legal, all undisclosed to anyone except via leaked memos.

On the bright side, Moore profiles entrepreneurs at a bread-making company who opt for truly democratic workplaces, where everyone votes on corporate policies and practices; the CEO has the same stake as the assembly line worker, and both are able to live very comfortably. It’s an inspiring oasis amid a series of chilling vignettes.

The most chilling section deals with the bank bailout; we learn that Congress was flooded with millions of phone calls and letters on the eve of the vote—which, if passed, would have given billions of dollars to the unrepentant fat cats who’d steered our bus off the cliff—and, amazingly, Congress turned their backs on their corporate backers and voted down the measure. That is, until a few days later, when a group of lawmakers met in secret, called for a hasty, new vote, and made the bailout legal.

This part of Capitalism is so effective that I forgot my recent history for a few minutes and swelled with pride at the notion that people contacting their representatives can actually make a difference; then the rug was yanked and I became rather depressed.

It didn’t help that Moore takes us right back to the family living in the truck. It’s definitely sad but, again, we don’t know how sad. My sympathies eroded the moment the family got together with other members of their dying community of foreclosed and abandoned homes and decided to simply “take back” their house by squatting in it. A bank rep (if I recall correctly) shows up to tell the people that they can’t live there; he calls the police and is yelled at by neighbors and members of the squatting family. I don’t know who this is meant to garner sympathy from. Certainly not me; once again, the questions came bubbling up:

Why were they evicted? If they’re so broke, how is it they managed to have signs and t-shirts made to showcase their new community action group? At one point, a family relative yells at the bank guy, something to the effect of, “How can you throw them out of their house? They’re living in a truck!” To which I asked her, in my head, “If you know about the truck situation, and if you have your own home, why don’t you let them to live with you?” It’s a cold world, yes, but there are rules that people agree to—not just in the social contract, but also on, you know, paper. And in the not-so-fine-print of most mortgage contracts are provisions that state, “If you don’t pay for your house, you don’t get to live in it.”

Interestingly enough, there’s a great segment on the Chicago glass company that went on strike earlier this year. The workers were given three days’ notice to vacate the plant after Bank of America refused to back the corporation that owned it. Moore successfully gets the audience on the workers’ side as they state their case and stage a peaceful sit-in that garners media attention and the support of president Obama. This should have been the film’s through-line, rather than an inspired mini-movie bookended by vague, cloying crap.

I left the theatre thinking that Michael Moore should have stayed away from the camera altogether and simply produced a movie about the economy with journalist Matt Taibbi at its center. Taibbi’s thorough and thoroughly entertaining articles for Rolling Stone this year have documented the downfall of the big banks and highlighted their practices’ effects on average Americans better than anything in Capitalism. Taibbi writes the way Moore used to film: with an emphasis on the problem and not the man talking about it. It’s gonzo journalism that never forgets which word in that phrase is more important.

Tuesday
Oct132009

Trick 'r Treat (2008)

Let's Try the Next House

Much like a good comedy, a good horror movie depends on surprises. And, no, a cat jumping out of a closet with shock music blaring on the soundtrack does not count as a surprise—unless you’re eight years old. This is precisely the problem with Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat.

This movie has developed a cult following in the two years since it was filmed, mostly because Warner Brothers put off and eventually canned the release. With a handful of screenings here and there, Trick ‘r Treat built a heady buzz. Horror fans were especially eager to get a look at the star-stuffed anthology, and now that it’s been released on DVD and Blu Ray, everyone can see for themselves. I checked it out the other night, and am sad to report that the only way to get a kick out of this movie is to significantly lower your expectations.

How sad is that?

The one thing I’ll give Trick ‘r Treat is that it exudes atmosphere. For all its (many) faults, the movie certainly evokes Halloween and—more importantly—the joy and giddy terror associated with trick-or-treating. Unlike slasher or demon movies that take place on Halloween, this movie is about the day itself, which some believe allows ghosts and “other things” to wander our reality for a night; this movie centers on a small Ohio town beset by monsters and monstrous humans.

If you’ve never seen a horror anthology or television series, you may be wowed by the serial killer neighbor story, the Little Red Riding Hood allegory, or the man-trapped-in-a-house-with-a-demonic-kid story. There’s also a tale about a gang of kids looking for a phantom school bus in a rock quarry, which was kind of interesting but ultimately failed to—again, this is really important—surprise me (I’ve seen It, Carrie, and Sometimes They Come Back, after all; I wonder if Stephen King is getting residuals on this thing?).

There’s nothing wrong with putting a new spin on classic horror storylines, but the spin has to be there. Otherwise, the audience might as well pop in Trilogy of Terror or Pet Sematary; or they could just read some Poe or old Tales from the Crypt comics. The point is, when there’s such rich, easily accessible source material laying around, a suspense-less knock-off simply won’t cut it, especially if you’re trying to convince people that your little horror movie is an amazing throwback to Creepshow (and not a tame copy of it). I say, don’t be Creepshow. Be something wholly original and unsafe.

The only boundaries Trick ‘r Treat pushes are those of patience and credulity. The film it most wants to be, I think, is that Oscar-winning coincidence-fest Crash. I mentioned that this film takes place in a small town, but for all the ludicrous connections it makes Dougherty might have well just set it on the same block (preferably Sesame Street). It’s one thing to have the serial killer live next door to the house where the old man is terrorized by the pumpkin-faced demon child, but it’s quite another to have that same middle-aged doofus be a “vampire” who stalks women in the town square—and eventually fall victim to a pack of female werewolves (this is a semi-spoilerish point, unless you’re actually paying attention during the movie—in which case you’ll clearly see Dylan Baker’s distinguished face in the vampire’s half-mask). All of the stories connect, but in the most obvious ways, so as not to leave even the most oxygen-deprived brains in the dark.

I wanted to love Trick ‘r Treat, but it’s too pedestrian to garner anything more than style points. If you can manage the feat that has eluded me all my life—that of “turning off your brain” during a movie—chances are you’ll like this picture; Hell, you’ll probably like a lot of movies, maybe even every movie.

But is that the kind of bar we should set and accept now? Horror movies for everyone? No thanks. I prefer my horror movies to be suspenseful, imaginative and dripping with, you know, horror.

In fairness, there was one genuinely cool moment in Trick ‘r Treat. The line, “Always check your candy” is delivered so perfectly that I laughed and got chills. But in keeping with the lowest-common-denominator spirit of the rest of the movie, the line is followed by a protracted vomit gag that would’ve made Sam Raimi tell Michael Dougherty he’d gone too far.

Monday
Oct052009

Whip It, 2009

Skating Around the Issues

I’m not generally a fan of remakes, but I’m looking forward to someone dusting off Whip It ten years from now and turning it into the interesting and fun all-girl roller derby movie it tries so hard to be. I’m clearly not the target audience for this film, but director Drew Barrymore goes out of her way to not only exclude me from the story but to actively scold me for being a lame-ass “boy” for 111 minutes.

Let me back up.

The problem I have with so-called “chick flicks” is not that they're made for women, but that they’re manufactured to appeal to the kind of woman you’d never hope to meet—or aspire to be. They often confuse female empowerment with a hatred of men (either overtly, or by perpetuating the tired stereotypes that we all love sports, power tools, and excessive carousing), while putting forth the idea that true happiness comes from finding the right man and enjoying mani-pedis and chocolate ice cream with a coven of non-threatening girlfriends.

This might be forgivable if the heroines of these pictures were at all smart. While they might hold day jobs as lawyers or book editors, their social lives are stifled by clumsiness or an ice-veined bitchiness that can only be thawed by the attention of a dashing cad (see The Ugly Truth or The Proposal; on second thought, don’t). Chick flicks may have a problem with the male sex, but their unflattering, unrealistic portrayal of women can, at their worst, border on misogyny.

Whip It attempts to break some of those awful stereotypes, but it gets so caught up in the familiar that it suffers an identity crisis and eventual full-blown psychotic episode. I really wanted to like this movie (though I had to practically medal in mental gymnastics to separate Ellen Paige from her grating Juno role). Going in, I knew nothing about roller derby, small-town Texas living, or what it’s like to be a confused seventeen-year-old girl; having now seen a film that is ostensibly about those things, I’m still in the dark.

Paige plays Bliss Cavendar, a sullen teenager who lives in a small town outside Austin, Texas. She and her best friend, Pash (Alia Shawkat) work at the Oink Joint slinging grease to hicks; the girls desperately want to shake off their stifling small-town and…do something. To be honest, I didn’t realize they were supposed to be high schoolers until they popped up in a locker scene—which took place, I might add, in the most sparsely populated hallway I’ve seen since Slaughter High, another low-budget movie featuring kids that deserve to die (“just kidding”).

No, Paige and Shawkat are obviously in their twenties, which makes their juvenile behavior seem less rebellious and more pathetic. Pash convinces Bliss to dye her hair blue right before the local pageant that opens the picture; Bliss does so and pisses off her square mom, played by Marcia Gay Harden. I guess the audience (again, not me) is supposed to laugh or feel empowered by this figurative middle finger to conformity, but I just got depressed, realizing I had another ninety-plus minutes to spend with an actress playing a character five years her junior that acts half that age.

One day while Bliss is shopping for look-at-me boots in the local head shop (of which there are several in every nowhere town in America), she’s handed a flyer for a roller derby game in Austin. She and Pash sneak off to the big city in a stunt that I swear was stolen from an episode of Growing Pains. At the arena/warehouse, they are wowed by muscular tough girls who skate around in circles trying to knock each other down. After the match, Bliss meets one of the teams and is encouraged to try out. I’ll skip over the requisite tryout montage (in which Bliss uses a pair of magical Traveling Pants-style skates that she hasn’t worn in a decade) and get to the good stuff. She makes the team, falls in love with a guy in a band, and embarks on a journey of self discovery that lets her burst her shy, awkward bubble to become…Juno.

Yes, there’s a spectacularly abrupt mid-film switch where Biss begins snarking it up and defying authority. She alienates her friends and family in pursuit of derby greatness; that is until one of her new heroes, nicknamed Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), tells her to stop being a brat and treat people with respect. This was the only genuine scene in the whole picture, and I was frustrated to realize how great Whip It might have been had Drew Barrymore ditched Ellen Paige and made a real movie about Wiig’s mid-thirties single mom who loves roller derby.

But, no, we’re left with a half-baked third act involving bogus teary apologies, followed by a Big Game where Mom and Dad and Sis show up to Cheer On the Passionate Daughter Who’s Finally Found the Courage to Follow Her Dreams. Christ, the only thing missing in Whip It’s climax is a goddamned slow clap. On top of that, there are some truly jaw-dropping developments, such as Pash falling madly, randomly in love with her Oink Joint boss, and Bliss dumping her rocker boyfriend after the most weasel-y, tacked-on infidelity sub-plot I’ve seen in years. Oh, and we also get a food fight that takes place in some mystical kitchen/cafeteria where the owners don’t seem to mind such things.

Circling back to the men in this movie, I’d like to note that the four of them are nothing more than insulting penile placeholders. You have the clueless boss; the hapless but caring dad; the really smart, interested coach who is constantly shit on by his all-female team (but in a fun, spirited way that is in no way demeaning); and the long-haired, heroin-chic rocker that is shown to be unfaithful simply so that the movie can assure female viewers that they don’t need no man to get their propers. This same treatment is not given to women in so-called “guy” movies. Sure, women are often objectified in action flicks and sex comedies, but there are at least one or two in any given film who are painted as driven and strong, and who eventually earn the respect of the films’ loutish men. Cinematic female empowerment can, in fact, exist in a world where guys are caring, smart, and ambitious (beyond the ubiquitous gay best friend roles); movies like Whip It are afraid to admit that.

Note: I should probably mention something about Drew Barrymore as a director, seeing as this is her debut in that role. I'll say that she should have fired her cinematographer, whose track footage is so repetitive as to be the equivalent of a sci-fi director filming a chase in a “labyrinthine” alien spaceship by having the main actor run along the same stretch of twenty-foot backdrop for ten takes and using edits to create the illusion of expanse. Barrymore should also never have appeared in the movie; her “Smashley Simpson” character is like a live version of Animal the Muppet—cloying, loud, and inconsistent; it’s her worst performance since 1992’s Poison Ivy (you know, in her pre/post Drew Barrymore phase). Staying off-camera certainly would have allowed her to focus on some of the sloppier storytelling aspects, such as:

1. Why does only one character in the entire movie sound like they’re actually from Texas?

2. How early do roller derby players show up before a big game? Early enough for a determined Dad to plead with them to travel all the way back to his suburban town so that they can plead with his daughter to travel all the way back to Austin to suit up and compete in said big game?

3. If the cops shut down a warehouse in which the derby games are held because of overcrowding on one night, would it not stand to reason that they’d keep an eye on the place—and, by extension, shut down the venue on the night of the sport’s biggest game?

4. Is there really no penalty for knocking a high school student over a stairway railing, even if the script wants us to believe she really deserved it?

5. Is it just a “kids-do-the-darnedest-things” moment when your underage daughter tricks you into letting her down a whole can of beer?

 

6. At film's end, Bliss announces her intention to move to Austin. To do what? Roller skate professionally? Or is The Oink Joint opening an Austin franchise?

If you’d like to see questions seven through forty-five, please make a request in the “Comments” section, and I’ll consider devoting a special column to this shit.

Monday
Oct052009

Zombieland (2009)

A Zombie Movie that Never Aims for the Head

Sometimes you just know.

I first saw the Zombieland trailer in front of District 9. It was loud, frenetically edited and plagued by a cute voiceover and Hot Teen Actors. I knew instantly that someone had tried to Americanize Shaun of the Dead without any understanding as to what made it great. The audience reaction was very enthusiastic, and I wondered what everyone else saw that I could not.

Fast forward a couple months to this weekend. The pre-opening buzz on this film is breathtaking. It’s being hailed as a fun, comedic masterpiece, on par with or better than Shaun of the Dead. Every friend who’s seen Zombieland says it’s great, so I ignore my instincts and head into the movie prepared to be won over. Nearly two hours later, I left the theatre and drafted a long, heartfelt apology to my instincts:

Dear Instincts,

You were right. I was wrong. Zombieland sucks. You did all you could to lead me away from this painfully dull movie, even urging me to leave the theatre during the garish, logically flawed opening title sequence. You said, “Come on, man, you can see that these idiots don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.” But I stayed.

You asked me, “Aren’t you tired of that hip, new device where expository text is inserted into scenes as part of the physical landscape? It was only done well in Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains and on the TV show Fringe (and let’s not forget Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Look how much they’re using it here! The characters are interacting with these rules of survival that they can’t see, and they pop up over and over and over (and over) again so that we never forget how important they are! Oooh, clever!”

Though I didn’t appreciate the bitter sarcasm, I couldn’t disagree with your logic.

You said, “Jesus fucking Christ! Jesse Eisenberg again? Remember how much you hated him in Adventureland, playing the sexless, warmed-over Michael Cera role? Look! He’s doing the same shit here! He’s even wearing one of those god awful emo-boy hoodies. The only thing worse than Michael Cera is someone posing as Michael Cera and failing!”

Again, you were so, so right. But I stayed.

“Hey,” I said, “Woody Harrelson’s in it. We love Woody!”

“Yeah,” you fired back, “We love Woody when he’s given something to do other than play a poorly written comic book character. ‘Look at me, ah’m a tuff guy with a shitload o’ guns! Hey, kid, let’s team up and fight the fast moving undead! Sure, we can get from Texas to California in a Hummer without having to stop a billion times for gas, why not? Much like 9/11, everything changes after a zombie apocalypse, even fuel efficiency!’”

It was a slap in the face, Instincts, but you had truth on your side.

“But, Instincts,” I stammered back, “This is a fun zombie movie, like Shaun of the Dead. We love Shaun of the Dead.” To which you replied:

“This is as close to Shaun of the Dead as Jaws: The Revenge is to Jaws. Aren’t you bothered by the monstrous plotholes?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, for instance: when Woody, Jesse, and the con-artist sisters they’ve picked up finally make it to California, don’t you find it odd that they hole up in the one neighborhood that isn’t overrun by zombies?”

“Come on, man, that’s nitpicking.”

“Okay, what about the amusement park?”

“What about it?”

“Two of the characters’ goals is to make it to a Disney-style amusement park, which they’ve heard is a zombie-free zone.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“The last twenty minutes of the movie takes place in said amusement park because these chicks are actually dumb enough to believe that a sprawling carnival would be a safe haven! No one is that goddamned clueless! No one! And if the audience is forgiving enough to suspend disbelief and lend that idea plausibility, they must draw the line at giving a shit about what happens to those characters.”

“Instincts, you make it sound like this movie was written by morons.”

“By them and for them.”

“Isn’t that a bit harsh?”

“Let me ask you this: how much do you hate Twitter?”

“Oh, lots, Instincts! You know this.”

“So why didn’t you get up and leave in the middle of Jesse Eisenberg’s five-hundredth bit of voiceover masturbation? Seriously, narration is supposed to give the audience insight into a film’s goings-on, not hit them over the head with a description of what they’re watching. Paraphrased example:

‘It was at that moment I realized I had to fight off the evil zombie clown to save the girl I love. Even though I have a fear of clowns, this was my defining moment as a person, so I manned-up and saved the day, thus violating—in a startling twist—rule number seventeen (which, remember, is ‘Don’t be a Hero; if you can’t remember, try reading the giant text blocks hovering next to my douche-y, pensive face).’”

“Come on, Instincts, that was way more than 140 characters.”

“I’m referring to that horrifying modern idea that every thought has to be expressed!” You sighed heavily then, Instincts, and took a long drag off a cigarette—weird ‘cause neither of us smokes. Then you grumbled, “I’m done with you,” and disappeared.

I really hope you’ll forgive me and come back some day. I miss your voice telling me to avoid seeing zombie movies that don’t know how to be scary. Without you, I’ll fall into more Zombielands, films that lack depth, artistry or even sitcom-level humor from this century.

I may even come to believe that it’s okay for an action comedy to use almost every genre cliché while also being completely boring and airless for the last 45 minutes. I fear that eventually I’ll lose respect for my own mind and stop demanding better entertainment.

I’ll be like everyone else.

Desperately Yours,

Ian

It’s been 33 hours since my instincts stopped talking to me. I miss the reasoned, experienced guidance, especially in light of the new voice that has popped into the back of my head.

 It laughs way too loudly at things I never would have found funny before; its grammar is terrible, and I swear I can actually hear it drooling whenever a cop car goes by. The new voice woke me up this morning and, apropos of nothing, said, “Hey, that new 2012 trailer looks fuckin’ awesome!”

Sunday
Sep272009

Surrogates, 2009

Flesh Forward

Occasionally, my wife and I will see random movies back-to-back. Last night, we were supposed to see the remake of Fame, followed by the Bruce Willis Barbies-gone-bad thriller, Surrogates. A couple hours before the first movie, my brother called; he’d just returned from Fame with a scathing assessment, so we scratched it from our agenda.

Later, at Surrogates’ three-quarter mark, I leaned over to my wife and whispered, “I think we’d’ve been better off with Fame.” She nodded, and we both went back to frowning.

I’ve written exhaustively about how frustrating it is to sit through so many movies that have decent-to-fantastic premises and lousy execution. Surrogates follows in that tired, lame tradition. In the movie, Bruce Willis plays an FBI agent in a future where most of the population has succumbed to “surrogacy”, a system in which people are plugged into a chair at home while android versions of themselves wander about the outside world. The story opens with Greer investigating the killing of two “surries”—normally a mundane occurrence, this time the human counterparts perished with their robot avatars. If you’ve seen I, Robot or Gamer, you probably figured out the entire plot trajectory by the time you hit the word “surrogacy”.

That’s not to say Surrogates is a bad movie, it’s simply a pedestrian one. The PG-13 rating reflects not only the picture’s tame violence but also its narrative sophistication. There’s nothing epic here, and the movie feels exactly like what it is: a disposable, past-the-end-of-summer romp.

Clearly, screenwriters Michael Ferris and John D. Brancato and director Jonathan Mostow were aiming for socially relevant sci-fi (“It’s like, what if everyone was plugged into The Matrix…voluntarily!”), but the warnings of rampant consumerism and virtual detachment seem dated right after the truly engaging pre-title sequence; mostly because the point of Surrogates is not revolution but recycling, as in trotting out conventional grizzled cop nonsense and hackneyed chase sequences that rely way too heavily on wire-work (it’s rare that I miss CG stuntmen, but, damn, do the leaping androids look cheesy).

On the topic of looks, I found Surrogates to be extremely uncomfortable to watch. Nearly all of the androids have bizarre glowing skin; not overtly so, but just enough so that each actor appears to have liberally applied plutonium-based orange blush. In one scene, two surrogates are on an elevator that opens onto an animated digital background, and the sloppy compositing of horrendous elements nearly made my head explode.

This film would have worked better as a television series. In fact, it feels like a two-hour pilot, minus commercials. Were the creators of Lost, or even the new series Flash Forward, given this material, I have no doubt they could have given the story the breathing room to develop the truly interesting concepts (the surrogate-free “reservations”; the hows-and-whys of robots ending racism and disease; surrogates getting high using lightning-bongs) and abandon the trite garbage (yes, Bruce Willis gets suspended from the FBI, and his boss demands his gun and his badge). As it stands, Surrogates wastes its ideas, its creators’ talents, and the audience’s time.