Double Feature – Legion and Surrogates

Some leftovers from last month’s viewing when I was sick. I lumped these two action flicks together, mostly because I saw the trailers for both of them when I went out to see another, probably far better  movie in the theaters. Since I was either busy or broke over most of the summer, I missed out on all the trashy action movies—The Expendables, The Losers, The A-Team, Red, Machete—which was kind of a shame.

Though, in at least two cases, I now know I didn’t miss out on much.

Legion

Expectations: It’s pitched as a supernatural thriller meets action movie, but I assume it’ll rely heavier on the action than the thriller part. The trailer sets things up nicely: a bunch of people are stuck in a roadside diner, things go biblically wrong, and some old lady turns into a bugfuck weird mutant angel assassin trying to kill the pregnant waitress. Hilarity ensues.

See the poster? Saw the trailer? That’s really all there is to this movie. A bunch of people are stuck in a roadside diner during the biblical apocalypse, and they must fight off wave after wave of angels trying to kill the waitress (Adrienne Palicki), who just so happens to be pregnant with the future savior of mankind (John Conner?). Oh, sure, there’s also a subplot about the waitress’ boyfriend (Lucas Black), or rather, the all-around doof and donothing with a crush on her. And there are the occasional hints of the people stuck in the diner with them, including the archangel Micheal (Paul Bettany and his soothing British accent), who is trying to save said savior.

The plot is predictably thin, even for an action movie, and the background can generally be summed up as “God is tired of mankind, wants to wipe the slate clean, start again, sends angels to wash clean the earth.” You see, angels in this reality are much like zombies in any other movie; they occupy human hosts, who stumble around the diner being ineffectual and giving the humans something to shoot at. Also, all the patrons have their own little backstory—is a divorced father with a big mutha .45 heading back to L.A. to get custody of his kid, a short-order cook with one hand, a family unit with some notable issues between parents and daughter—but these red shirts exist mostly to exist as interesting characters before they’re blown away. For example. Tyrese Gibson, the father with a chrome .45, shares one of those tender movie moments with Willa Holland, the goth daughter from the family unit, and within three minutes he’s torn apart by angels. (At least we see his heroic death, whereas the goth chick is bites it off-screen.) Dennis Quaid also shows up for a paycheck: he doesn’t show up much and doesn’t do a whole lot, and is really there for nonexistent star power!.

That’s really all I can say about the movie. The action scenes are a bit dull, but then again it’s not a real action movie but one of those “action-horror” zombie shooters. It suffers from a horrible case of false-ending-itis; be prepared for six or seven blatantly expectable unexpected surprises. That said, the movie delivers everything it promised: angels fighting each other with automatic weapons. If that’s your idea of a good use of 100 minutes, Legion is the movie you’ve been waiting for.  Turn your brain off and watch the explosions.

Now that I think about it, this is essentially Maximum Overdrive with zombies angels instead of trucks, without Emilio Estevez or the AC/DC soundtrack. I guess they were hoping to ride the wave of “OMG it’s so sacrilegious!,” but even in conservative West Michigan I didn’t see more than the obligatory coverage on the local news.

Surrogates

Expectations: Bruce Willis! Action Movie! Technology gone asunder! Detective crime thriller! Based on a graphic novel! From the amazing trailer, the film looks like a techno-thriller with heavy cyberpunk trappings and a Philip K. Dickian vibe.

Then again, that’s how they pitched Babylon A.D.

The film takes place the not-so-distant future, where people operate robotic AI avatars called “surrogates” from their home to engage in everyday activities such as recreational sex and partying. (No, it’s not ripping off Avatar; it was a graphic novel from 2005-09.) Said surrogates look exactly like their users, except they’re pretty and young and youthful and not fat, aging boomers who never get out of their pajamas because they spend most of their day wired in and surrogate-ing around town, and the rest of the time sleeping.

Bruce Willis is detective Tom Greer, and he’s got a major case on his hands: Somebody has managed to kill a user while they were jacked into their surrogate, something that shouldn’t be possible. Worse, it’s the son of Dr. Lionel Carter (James Cromwell), the guy who developed surrogates in the first place. Even worse, the son was borrowing one of his dad’s surrogates. In other words, there’s a mystery afoot!

In terms of the mystery , the writers have gone with the tired and true method of spending half the movie trying to figure out who’s behind the mystery, and the second half of the movie trying to figure out why they’re doing it. Not bad, could be worse, and I’m spoiled by reading too much.

Along the way, there’s several important developments. The relationship between Greer and his wife Maggie is strained, at best, because of her reliance on her pretty surrogate to overcome her aging boomer looks; this is compounded more when Greer looses his surrogate in the movie’s single action scene, leaving a bald and sluggish Bruce Willis to stumble around without his hair and impeccable virtual body.

Therein is one of the first major flaws of the movie, and it isn’t the last. Willis is still a solid action star—e.g., Red—so casting him as a guy who spends half the movie with a fake hairdo and the other half of the time trudging about slowly in bad suits is an odd choice. He performs the role admirably, but with a leading name like “BRUCE WILLIS” you expect him in an action role, not as a tired middle-aged man. The rest of the cast also give good performances, including Ving Rhames as a highly underused prophet for a “back to earth/back to humanity” movement.

Ok, so the acting’s good even though Willis is cast to play the “get off my lawn” detective. (To be fair, Eastwood made that line zing when he pulled it in Gran Torino.) The problems lie with everything else. The dialogue is shoddy, lacking the solid one-liners and emotion from a good popcorn flick. Quickly, the film falls into the age-old rut of “formulaic drivel;” the plot has holes you can lose a car in; there is, again, just a single major action scene in the film; and the way in which all of this is revealed is just plain dull. Worst for me, it borrows many aspects of other films—you can probably smell the I, Robot from here, what with the detectives, robots, James Cromwell playing the same character, and all that—but manages to avoid the elephants in the room, namely the whole reality/virtuality divide, and vicarious living through a robotic interface bit. It’s there, but so woefully underused—in a movie which really needs depth—that it’s frightening.

I should also note that the comic has a particularly dark ending, especially regarding the Greer family, the surrogates, and all that. Not that I’ve read it, of course, but the ending of the movie is chintzy enough to make me gag… quite an accomplishment in a movie where everything, even the (good but underused) SFX, feels chintzy. As the movie is, deep down, a Disney production, it doesn’t surprise me that everything is wrapped up with a bow, giving a tediously happy ending and all that, but the amount of schmaltz provided is… disturbing.

I’ve seen a lot of crappy movies recently: Armored was a lukewarm heist movie that I should have avoided, simply because it was the film that could have been but wasn’t; Legion is a passable and entertaining action film, as long as you turn your brain off until the credits roll. In many ways, Surrogates is the strongest of the three; sad, because it has the makings of a summer blockbuster, with a seasoned pro in the star slot, and managed to bungle it badly.


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