Sometimes Hollywood has its head so firmly implanted in its own fundament I have to wonder what it sees in there that's so fascinating. Take the new quasi-sci-fi thriller "Surrogates," for instance. Here's a picture that tells you that one of the movies' greatest appeals is bad for you.

The story takes place at least 14 years in the future. It can't be any sooner, because only one thing has changed, and it isn't anything as obvious as fashion or design styles. Everything looks the same "? all that's different is that people no longer leave their homes.

They don't have to, because genius Dr. Canter (James Cromwell, "W.") invented robotic surrogates to get out and live people's lives for them. You fasten a few wires to your head and your surrogate is turned on. It goes to work for you, runs errands, attends the opera, stops at the store for a milk and bread while you sit back at home seeing through its optical units and run no personal risks. If the surrogate gets mugged or dies in a car crash, hey, you just buy a new one.

Not that one of them will get mugged. Violent crime is down 98 percent, which I guess means that even the poorest people own one and no real humans are out there kidnapping them and selling them for parts. There isn't one futuristic concept in this movie that's been thought out to a logical conclusion by screenwriters Michael Ferris and John D. Brancato ("Terminator Salvation"). I haven't seen the source graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele.

But one day, trouble erupts when someone, a real person, begins blasting surrogates with what looks like a DustBuster set to "KILL" and the demise of the robot also results in the brain liquefying of its owner/operator. Two surrogate cops, Tom (Bruce Willis, "Grindhouse") and Peters (Radha Mitchell, "Henry Poole Is Here"), are on the case, and faster than you can say "Isaac Asimov," they uncover a rebellion brewing in the part of town —? the reservation —? that is for humans only.

Seems the people, led by a charismatic prophet who is part John the Baptist and part David Koresh (Ving Rhames, "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard"), want to destroy the surrogates and return the planet to its rightful owners: them. It seems that no one has thought of using surrogates as astronauts or deep sea explorers or any other nifty science-fiction stuff like that.

One amusing aspect of the film is seeing the actors and the surrogate versions of themselves. Willis as human Tom is his rightful age, with goatee and stubble on cheeks and pate. Surrogate Tom is years younger, with full head of hair and Ken-doll smoothness of skin. Tom's wife, Maggie (Rosamund Pike, "Fracture"), still grieving the death of their son, has let herself go completely to hell "? the makeup work is terrific "? while her surrogate is still the looker.

One character who is a short, white guy owns a surrogate who is tall and black. One male operates a surrogate who is female and hot. You can own as many surrogates as you want, making yourself any age, sex or ethnicity at will. If it's Tuesday, I must be a Belgian.

Despite the sci-fi trappings, "Surrogates" is essentially a mystery as Tom and Peters work to find out who is behind the murders and wants, finally, to melt down every surrogate/human team on Earth. Billions of people will die and there won't be any surrogates left to clean up the corpses. Nasty.

The movie is directed with unimaginative competence by Jonathan Mostow ("Terminator 3") who, like the writers, makes science fiction without having much feel for the genre. He, and everyone associated with this bubble, don't seem to understand that a major appeal of the movies — maybe the major appeal —? is that film stars, with their good looks and clever dialogue, are our surrogates.

We may not fear going out into the world, but we do fantasize about doing it while looking like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. Some of us want to be them, but a lot more of us think we'd simply enjoy being like their screen persona. This film is telling us that no, those are not things we should be coveting, that being ourselves is enough and that surrogates allow us to live falsely.

So much for deep meaning. Is the movie good? Not really. Is it fun? Mostly, but not totally. It's a dystopian vision with a happy ending. There's a reason you don't see those very often. —?Doug Bentin

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Doug Bentin

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