In a future world that has been created to criticise the present almost everyone lives their lives though remote control robots that go out into the word and work and live meet and interact while their human operators stay safe in their homes operating the machines. Even wars are fought by operators remotely with machines fighting machines in endless battles. Murder is now a very rare crime but we get to see two committed outside a night club when someone on a motorbike shoots two machines with a bright beam of crackling electricity that fries their eyes and their circuits. Bruce Willis is Greer a FBI agent investigating the destruction of the machines with his partner agent Peters (Radha Mitchell) and at first the cops have no reason to suspect murder until they trace the operators who were both killed by whatever destroyed their Surrogates. It is a nice touch that the operator of hot female machine was a fat slob in his underwear
The big powerful (and automatically evil) company who make the machines are very worried about the publicity of the investigation and are not very forthcoming with helpful information merely denying that it is possible for what did happen to have happened at all. Willis does manage to get information from a scientist working for the evil corporation that they had machines returned to them from the military that were fried out in the same way
They find out that the identity of the second victim is Jarid Canter who was operating an unregistered machine owned by his father Dr Lionel Canter (James Cromwell) the inventor of the Surrogate technology that he created to help paraplegics. Canter has split from the evil corporation when they started marketing his machines for everybody and changing the world as a result. Now many people never interact with the real world at all and this includes Greer’s wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike) who never appears in person even to her husband after their son died in a car accident several years earlier. In response to this situation there are anti-surrogate groups who follow people like the Prophet (Ving Rhames) who advocates rebellion against the unreal life of those who use Surrogates and have several Surrogate-free Dread reservations.
The FBI manages to get information out of the last memories of the Surrogates to identify the man who has the ray gun and thanks to constant remote surveillance they find out where he is. The FBI swoop on the man Miles Strickland (Jack Noseworthy) but he uses the ray gun to take out all the agents chasing him including the pilot of the helicopter that Greer is flying in and it crashes into the Dread reservation. Strickland has run there to get away from the FBI. Greer had avoided getting his Surrogate fried by going off-line just in time but he re-activates it and gives chase to Strickland across the reservation. This really pisses off the locals who gang up to destroy his Surrogate. Greer now has to deal with the world in person instead of through a Surrogate and at first he finds this disorienting. The political furore caused by his Surrogate being caught in the reservation means that the FBI are not wanting to take the case any further but Greer will not let it drop, especially as the death toll now includes several FBI agents.
While watching this film I enjoyed the action and the story and thought it was an interesting idea but by the end there were things that concerned me. The overall message of the film seemed oddly technophobic for a product of such a technology-dependent medium whose main form is escapist stories. The ugly scenes of the reservation mob chasing down and destroying Greer’s Surrogate did very little to endear me to their philosophy and we never get to see any good side to living a real life without a Surrogate. In the end the film did not deliver much more than a very standard action film. Bruce Willis is pretty good as Greer and he is what makes the film watchable.