Kind of worth recalling.
Total Recall does something I haven’t really seen a remake do yet: in spite of being pretty much the same story as the Schwarzenegger 1990 film (with some fairly big differences that don’t really have any bearing on the story), with a lot of the scenes shot almost identical in form and structure, and with exactly the same betrayals and major plot points, it manages to deliver an entirely different feeling and yet still enjoyable film experience.
It all boils down to style. Arnold is the king of camp, over the top action (just look at his clips from from the upcoming Expendables 2) and left an indelible comic mark all over the film. The writers of the original Total Recall seemed to have understood this and wrote to his strengths. The remake lacks all that campy humor (and while there is humor to be had here it is almost all exclusively call backs to the 1990 film) but makes up for more action and to be honest a more compelling and believable protagonist. What does that mean in terms of your viewing pleasure? If you want camp go rewatch 1990. If you are happy with a decent action film (albeit a little shallow) than you will enjoy this film.
Of course, like most movies that come out these days this film is rife with problems, and being a bitter soul I will enjoy listing them in detail. For one thing the director (Len Wiseman-the entire Underworld series) must have been blackmailed by the art director and CGI company because every shot is packed full of everything possible in a futuristic movie to the point of absolute distraction. It’s like if Godzilla ate an entire flea market and then vomited it all over the sets from Bladerunner. There is so many people, dystopic futuristic slums, and gigantic moving Hellraiser puzzle boxes that I often found myself trying to discern the character or action point I was supposed to be paying attention to. This problem was aggravated by the directors obvious love of thin, waifish brunette females (just like in another series he has done) as the evil bitch and helpful sidekick looked like sisters and were nigh impossible to tell apart, especially when they were wearing almost the same outfits. A red scarf or green t-shirt might have gone a long way.
I can also say that while was impressed by Colin Farrell (Phone Booth, Alexander, the New World) as Douglas Quaid/Houser, I felt most of the supporting characters were a little tepid and two dimensional. I don’t think this was a reflection on the acting so much as mediocre writing. Even the great Bryan Cranston (Drive, Breaking Bad, Red Tails) as President Cohaagan was cartoonishly over the top. He would have fit right in with the Arnold version, but felt disjointed and out of place here.
Finally, this film still suffers from the same issues that plagued the 1990 version in that the whole movie is based around an evil plot so complex and prone to miserable failure that it makes calculating the square root of -1 and the last digit of pi look simply by comparison. What if one of the 14,000,000 guys trying to kill the main guy accidentally succeeded? Was the final goal such a huge priority for the organization that they risked the life and sanity of the greatest operatives of all time, not to mention dedicating what must have been thousands of man hours to accomplish it? Plus a bunch of security guys who got scragged. Aren’t there like 83 less dangerous, complicated, or expensive ways to accomplish the goal? While the camp humor element behind the 1990 version masked this issue nicely, this movies secret desire to take itself seriously makes these questions much more prevalent and distracting. (Get Real image courtesy of the Funny T Shirt category)
The story. This is another film where I can say rent the original and you more or less know it. There are a few spoilers coming when I talk about the story differences so SPOILER ALERT. Substitute the chemically desolate surface of the Australia for Mars. Great Britain is now Earth, and instead of a rocket to Mars there is now a super subway called The Fall that goes through the center of the Earth (I’m not going to black hole them for this, but the science behind this is pretty stupid. The core of the Earth is estimated to be 9,800 degrees Fahrenheit, and that plus the pressure would crush any attempt to do what they did here. Unless they have some kind of force field (and there was no other evidence of force fields anywhere else in the film) I sincerely doubt they would have any material on the planet that would survive this. On the other hand, if they did have some kind of force field they would have had pretty much unlimited power in the form of geothermal energy). Great Britain is the elite of modern society, and the unwashed masses all live in Australia. Other than that the movie pretty much plays out exactly the same. Douglas Quaid is a lowly factory worker who goes to Rekall and has a false memory of being a spy implanted. The process awakens his real memory of being a spy. His life is a huge fabrication, his wife spends most of the movie trying to kill him, and they even repeat the scene where his former best friend tries to convince him that the whole thing is just a figment of his fractured mind.
The stars. If you take this film as a stand alone film and don’t get wrapped up in comparing it to the original it’s actually pretty fun. Two stars. I liked Colin Farrell as Douglas Quaid. One star. I always like Bill Nighy (Harry Potter and the Deadly Hollows Pt 1, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Hot Fuzz) and Bryan Cranston is fun to watch even when I find his character kind of dumb. One star. The two females (Kate Beckensale-Underworld, Contraband, the Aviator and Jessica Biel-the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 7th Heaven, the Illusionist) were in a serious contest to see which was easier on the eyes (Jessica Biel won in my opinion, but it was a close thing). Lots of inside call backs to the original Total Recall, including an extremely brief but highly appreciated appearance of the three breasted whore. One star. I happen to like dystopic future visions. It much more looks like what I think we will be living in. One star. The battle droids, while obviously shoved into the film in order to maintain the PG13 rating, were all pretty cool. One star. Pacing was actually really good and tight. One star. Total: nine stars.
The black holes. The jumbled up nature of the scenes and the similarity of some of the characters made a lot of the action actually hard to follow. A lot of the camera work looked like it was done just to be impressive without actually having a specific point it was trying to deliver. One black hole. This film labored under the curse of PG13 in a big way. Robots were all horrible dismembered while humans had the gentle grace to die bloodlessly from bullet impacts the left no passage. One black hole. While Douglas Quaid was pretty cool, a lot of the other characters were little more than talking plot devices. One black hole. The complexity of the evil plot was the one part that did not survive the transition from 1990 to 2012. One black hole. One of the coolest things about the 1990 film is they really left the question of the actual reality up in the air, and while they tried to do that here in the beginning there was a scene that kind of hurt that idea a lot. One black hole. Total: five black holes.
A grand total of four stars. Not bad, and to be honest much more than I expected from a classic movie remake. If you are a fan of sci fi action I can definitely recommend this one for you, and the screen is so jumbled up I think you need a large screen just to sort out what is going on. It looks like they did not bother with 3D, which I think was the right move. Just too much going on for you to track. Date movie? Probably not. Very geeky, very guy movie with the added problem of showing her a story where the entire romance is a false construct based on massive lies. Not exactly the thing to put her in an amorous mood. Bathroom break? I am having a hard time with this. The pacing of this film kind of makes it hard to identify a less worthwhile portion. There is some filler from the first act but you shouldn’t need the bathroom there. I guess if you have seen the 1990 version you could skip the scene where the protagonists best friend tries to convince him the whole thing is a mental fabrication. It plays out pretty much exactly like it did with Arnold.
Thanks for reading. I apologize for not seeing Step Up Revolution on Tuesday and writing a really bitter review for it, but I just couldn’t motivate myself to get out of the house for that. I will try to see it or something else this weekend. I have the big Star Trek show coming up next week and am kind of scrambling to get that done, but once that is complete I will focus on more movie reviews. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. If you have a comment on this movie or review feel free to leave it here. If you have an off topic question or suggestion feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Talk to you soon.