September 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow (“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”)
Written by: Michael Ferris (“Terminator Salvation”) and John Brancato (“Terminator Salvation”)
Screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Brancato have a monopoly on the man-versus-machine movie this year. While they might be remembered more for penning director McG’s much-anticipated albeit disappointing sequel “Terminator Salvation,” a more engaging entry into the writing duo’s science fiction filmography is the less-publicized “Surrogates” starring Bruce Willis.

Directed by Jonathan Mostow, who’s had a hand in the “Terminator” franchise himself with the silly third installment “Rise of the Machines” in 2003, “Surrogates” finds itself in an awkward spot in September. Not big enough to play among the blockbusters of the summer and easily removed from the Oscar bait of the fall, “Surrogates” might be able to survive if enough people give it a chance to be exactly what moviegoers probably need during this transitional period: a quick flick that’s fairly satisfying.

In “Surrogates,” 98 percent of the world is run by humanlike robots known as surrogates. Basically, any human “operator” who owns one of these pristine, synthetic bodies can virtually link up to it and live out their entire life in the comfort of their own home. No longer does anyone have to go to work, run errands, or risk their lives walking out the front door. A surrogate will take care of it all.

Willis stars as Greer, an FBI agent, who along with his partner Peters (Radha Mitchell) are investigating the mysterious death of a young “operator” who happens to be the son of surrogate creator Canter (James Cromwell). Although it was thought to be impossible, someone has found a way to kill human operators by destroying their surrogates.

One person who would love to get his hands on whatever is overloading the “surries” is the Prophet (Ving Rhames), a human resistance leader whose hundreds of followers cling to his every word about the depressing dehumanization of society. Greer, too, is witnessing his own world slowly but surely distancing itself from reality. Unable to face the death of their son, Greer’s wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike) hides away in her virtual existence where she doesn’t have to confront those memories.

Much of “Surrogates” is standard sci-fi fare that never gets too technical or tries to deemphasize a plot that sometimes moves like the cogs of a rickety clock. It keeps a tolerable pace, but skips a few important beats along the way. Still, as illogical as much of it is, “Surrogates” is better throw-away-cinema than “Gamer” of earlier this month. If you were able to dodge that bullet and still need a sci-fi fix, you could do a lot worse than this.

Terminator Salvation

May 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin
Directed by: McG (“Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”)
Written by: John D. Brancato (“Catwoman”) and Michael Ferris (“Primeval”)

What should have been a war for the ages quickly turns into an exercise in mechanics as director McG and team are somehow able to disconnect 25 years of apocalyptic mythology and groundbreaking cinematic moments with “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth installment of the sci-fi franchise.

Although director Jonathan Mostow helped spur the downward spiral with “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” in 2003, he at least left the final scene of the film wide open for someone else to take the reigns and drive the story to the inevitable war between man and machine. We’ve all anticipated it ever since Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) met face to face with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s killer cyborg in the 1984 classic. Instead, McG and unproven screenwriters John D. Brancato (“T3”) and Michael Ferris (“T3”) seem to feel that just because the foundation is there they can throw it into cruise control. Sadly, no one bothered to tell them that fans deserved more than a few loud explosions and artificial nostalgic moments.

The film starts with an introduction to Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate who signs his body away to science before he is executed for murder. Marcus unknowingly returns as a cyborg years after Judgment Day has occurred. With no memory of his past life, he roams the smoldering ruins until he meets Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who fans will know as the human sent back in time in the original film to protect Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and sow the seed that would later become John Connor (Edward Furlong in “T2,” Nick Stahl in “T3,” and Christian Bale in “Salvation”).

As the “prophesized leader of the Resistance” against the machines, John knows his future and the future of mankind lies with two things: the destruction of Skynet, the artificial intelligence network behind the nuclear holocaust, and the survival of his teenage father, a member of the Resistance. Marcus and John’s paths cross after Kyle is snatched up by a machine and taken back to Skynet. John is left to decide whether or not to place his trust in Marcus not knowing if he is the type of terminator that has been sent to destroy him.

The rescue mission, however, doesn’t happen until after a series of impressive special effects and some terrible choices in dialogue, narrative, and female characterization (Moon Bloodgood, Jadagrace, Helena Bonham Carter, and Bryce Dallas Howard do absolutely nothing to progress the story). In “Salvation,” the machines are the stars of the show – and well they should be – but not to the detriment of anything that resembles human emotion (Bale blasting off on viral audio doesn’t count). What McG and writers replace it with instead is 11th-hour metaphorical wish-wash that centers on the strength and resiliency of the human heart. Where that heart was for the rest of the film is anyone’s guess.