The future sucks. No matter which movie you watch, the future is going to be a dark, ugly place. In this re-imagining of Total Recall, chemical warfare has decimated the entire planet, leaving only two districts: a British republic and Australia. The United Federation of Britain is super rich and has robots, and Australia is a dingy place called the Colony. The UFB has people come from the Colony to build their synthetic army, and takes every opportunity to oppress the poor people of what used to be Australia. Every day, one of these factory workers, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) travels to the factory in the UFB via The Fall, a massive transport that goes through the Earth’s core and neutralizes gravity at some point because….science?
Quaid, dissatisfied with his life of repetitive manual labor, decides to visit “Rekall”, a facility that implants artificial memories into customers. During the procedure, it is revealed that Quaid had his memory altered before, and now everyone wants him dead because apparently he used to be a resistance fighter in the ongoing conflict between the Colony and the UFB. His hot police officer wife (Kate Beckinsale) is suddenly trying to kill him with a determination that would make the Terminator jealous, while a new woman (Jessica Biel) seems to know him from before his memory was blocked and helps him escape and piece together the clues Quaid left for himself as his former identity. Also, Bryan Cranston is a bad guy and Bill Nighy happens.
Aw, sweet! A new Skyfall trailer!
Actually, as good as that trailer before the movie was, Total Recall was not horrible. There were a few things I gladly tip my glass go, not the least of which was the action. Len Wiseman started his career in the Underworld films, which I enjoyed until I graduated from high school. Wiseman went on to direct Live Free or Die Hard, which while it wasn’t a true Die Hard film, it was one hell of an action movie. He hones his skill for excellent action set pieces here, establishing a series of extremely cool sequences that serve to make the movie significantly more fun than it should be. Wiseman keeps the pace of the film brisk, delivering creative and thrilling action scenes that really drove the movie forward. The centerpiece is a huge battle across a multitude of vertical and horizontal elevator cars that was tremendously exciting, as was the final battle throughout and across The Fall.
Wiseman and his camera crew know how to get creative when filming a scene, and there are a multitude of really cool shots in the film that make the action look cool without making it incoherent. The crew has a good handle on both the foreground and background, and there are a few shots in particular that had me prematurely writing this positive paragraph in my head. Seriously, except for a couple of painfully obvious green screen bits, this movie looks terrific.
The movie takes a few strides to differentiate itself from the 90s movie. While the core idea of the narrative is intact, there are liberties taken from the story. I give Len Wiseman credit for attempting to make a movie that is based off of Philip K. Dick’s original short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” instead of a rote clone of the campy movie from before.
There are also a couple of clever references to the original film. I won’t specifically spoil the best one, but it regards Quaid’s disguise in the original film. There are other fun pokes (and yes, the three-breasted chick is accounted for, shut up), but they’re arranged in such a way that the movie never feels too smug with its references and it’s clear that mimicking the original film is not the main objective here.
For all of its visual flair, Total Recall is just kind of lifeless. True, the movie is absolutely firing on all cylinders during the action sequences, but that all other times it’s just bland, seemingly running on autopilot. Above all else, it seems like this is the kind of movie that will be forgotten in a few years. Ask someone if they saw it, and they’ll either say that they love Arnold Schwarzenegger, or they’ll know that you’re talking about the remake and say they are indifferent. In case you’re wondering, they will know you’re talking about the remake because if you have to ask if someone likes the original Total Recall, they’re violating Man Code. (I also learned that Microsoft Word doesn’t flag the word “Schwarzenegger”). But I digress.
Man Code states that the original Total Recall is awesome.
HOLY FUCKING LENS FLARE, BATMAN. If this movie is to be believed, the future will be a cold, cruel place for epileptics. Every piece of light in this movie is bursting with vibrancy, and while I admire the attempt to make the future looks a little future-y, I don’t need to get my retinas fucked out in the process. I saw more lens flare in this movie than I have seen in any movie, ever…combined. It really is that aggressive. Sometimes the lighting effects would stretch across the entire screen, and it got extremely distracting after a while… J. J. Abrams, eat your heart out.
OK, so I know that Kate Beckinsale is banging the director, but the constant “HEY, MY WIFE IS HOT” reminders were not necessary. There is not a SINGLE wide shot of Beckinsale that doesn’t have her standing with her legs spread slightly apart in a sort of sexy evil pose. There’s also a ridiculous, unnecessary moment early in the film where she is fighting with Quaid. She throws him over an edge and does a rock n’ roll crotch slide right into his face. There are occasional butt shots in Beckinsale’s tight pants, she spends most of a scene in her underwear, and there are at least two references to oral sex. I mean, far be it from me to complain about Kate Beckinsale, but if I want to ogle her, I’ll watch Underworld.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of an image that combines femininity, Len Wiseman’s boner, lens flare, and my own sexual frustration.
It’s a risky, challenging move to try to create a remake, because no matter what you do, some people will be angry. Total Recall is a good example of this: Wiseman found himself between two sets of bloodthirsty fans, split between a carbon copy and a unique new piece. This attempt is an admirable action movie, but that’s about it. It jettisons the social commentary from the story, and removes the silliness and the “is it all a dream?” ambiguity from the original. The result is a slightly generic movie. While it’s hard to criticize the movie too harshly when the action is so excellent, it’s also difficult to look past how utterly bland the rest of the movie is. At the end of the day, this Total Recall is a little forgettable.