Sunday, August 12, 2012

Total Recall (2012) - Theatrical Review

Release Date: August 3, 2012

If watching this new version of Total Recall were a memory implant, I would ask for my money back.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 16 Tyler Galleria
Time: 10:20 pm August 4, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 1 hr 39 min
Studio: Sony

Loves: The original 1990 Total Recall
Likes: Kate Beckinsale, Colin Farrell, Bryan Cranston
Neutral: Jessica Biel
Hates: Pointless remakes
Why is Recall spelled two ways?: "Recall" in the title refers to memory while "Rekall" in the film is the name of the business Doug Quaid visits.

It is the year 2084 and the fallout from the last world war has left over 80% of the planet covered in hazardous toxins. Only two regions remain, the Colony, a refuge for the poor and destitute and the United Federation of Britain, a safe haven for the rich and privileged ruled by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a resident of the Colony, is looking for anyway to escape his dead end job and finds himself at Rekall, a memory augmentation parlor where they sell experiences that are instantly remembered. However, shortly after his procedure begins, Quaid finds himself on the run as a suspect in a conspiracy to take down the local government.

It is impossible to talk about this new "Total Recall" without comparing it to the original film simply because they share so much in common in their narrative structures (amongst many other things). The original 1990 "Total Recall" isn't one of those films that automatically strikes most people as a film that needed to be remade. While most certainly a product of its time with an enormous amount of gratuitous violence and starring the then mega star Arnold Schwarzenegger, it is a film that has held up surprising well over the years due its superb special effects work and one of the smartest scripts ever conceived for what is essentially an action/adventure thrill ride.

Quaid is about to get more than he paid for.

Director Len Wiseman's "Total Recall" is a much more straight forward affair about where it is headed and what it is. The mind games that were such an integral part of the original film are only vaguely touched upon here and instead we get this rather generic, but admittedly extremely sleek looking, man-on-the-run action adventure with our hero constantly being pushed from one action set piece to the next. Some may find the non-stop action as a plus but with so little time spent with the actual characters being living breathing people, there is never any reason to care for whether they live or die from moment to moment.

One of the most notable changes from the original is the casting of Colin Farrell in the lead role which was a bold choice, but one that just doesn't work unfortunately. Farrell is an actor who can generate a lot of emotion when the part demands it, but here it feels as though he is just a pawn in his own film doing what anyone tells him without much hesitation. His Douglas Quaid never really questions who he is or what he is doing which is in stark contradiction to how Schwarzenegger played the role as someone who always felt lost, paranoid and confused but just kept pushing forward.

Melina shows up just in time to shoot some bad guys.

Aside from one key sequence near the middle of the film, there are never any instances where his reality is questioned and that is unfortunately detrimental to the entire film. The brilliant ruse of his wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale) being an undercover operative is never fully utilized as in the original either. Beckinsale, who is absolutely fantastic in the role, seems to be switched on to assassin mode nearly all the time with an inexplicable need to see her former husband dead instead of bouncing back and forth between loving wife and murderous vixen at a moments notice. Those little bits of misdirection are sadly missing here.

Even when we first see Melina (Jessica Biel) in Quaid's dream who then suddenly appears out of nowhere half way into the film, there is no real mystery to her. You get the sense that he dreamt about her because they knew each other before, but that's it. There is nothing eluding to the possibility that she is just part of his memory implant and despite them outright saying they had a relationship in the past, that never really comes across as very genuine since the two actors don't have much chemistry with each other.

Beckinsale is about the best thing in the movie.

Probably the most offensive thing this film does, or doesn't, do is provide anything truly unique to distinguish itself from the original. If you were to start comparing them based on dialog, story and characters, this quickly becomes one of the most literal remakes in recent memory. Aside from the impressive (but derivative) aesthetics, a handful of somewhat imaginative action sequences such as a car chase that takes place both above and beneath the road and a foot chase through one of the craziest and most illogical elevator systems ever created, the only major difference between the films are their stories which this new film may be more reality based compared to the original, but it isn't nearly as engrossing.

When compared simply as just two films telling the same story, the original film is the clear cut winner. However, both films are based off the Philip K. Dick short story "We will remember it for you wholesale", so unless you are familiar with the book, it is difficult to say which film is the better adaptation. When you look at the other films based off of the legendary author's other stories (Blade Runner, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly) it is more than apparent that they all have this underlying sense of paranoia where the characters are often battling to discover what is reality and what isn't.

Quaid isn't sure who he can trust.

This new film has none of that which leads one to believe the original film, while possibly not as accurate, may be a little more closer to the spirit of the novel which makes it the clear winner in both categories.This film would have been better served not using the title "Total Recall" at all. All it does is invite comparisons which it can't possibly live up to. Lacking the mind games that made the original so fun and rewatchable and a plot that could have serviced any generic action thriller, it makes very little sense why this film needed that title association.

Even without the comparison to the original it would still be an uninteresting, drab and ultimately lifeless action movie that just so happened to have a large budget. There is no originality to be found here and what is borrowed (and there is a lot) is extremely bland and uninteresting. Skip this one and do yourself a favor, pick up the original on Blu-ray. It costs just as much as one ticket for this thing plus you won't be yearning to make a trip to Rekall yourself to have the last 2 hours of your memory erased.





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