Total Recall – Movie Review
Remakes: they are some of the most infamous films of the current generation of Hollywood. While some like Hairspray and True Grit have become some fantastic movies (decisively better than the originals), most of the time it seems like remakes serve the purpose of making studios money in an age of seemingly less creativity. Sure, some argue that remakes are a way to introduce the same story to a new audience, which I think is a legitimate argument, but nonetheless I think corporate greed is a crucial factor. Now take Total Recall: based on a short story by Philip K. Dick and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, it is a classic of the sci-fi action genre. Due to its quality and popularity, did it need a remake? Nope, but we have one anyway. Coming from star Colin Farrell, writer Kurt Wimmer and Underworld director Len Wiseman, is this new take on Total Recall an action film to remember, or yet another remake motivated by greed?
The year is 2084, and in the aftermath of World War III, Earth has now been divided into two world superpowers: the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and The Colony. Citizens travel between the two via “The Fall,” an enormous gravity elevator that travels through the earth’s core. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is one such citizen who works as a construction worker, and despite having an absolutely gorgeous wife named Lori (Kate Beckinsale) he is sick of his tiresome life and recurring nightmares. As a result, he one decides to visit Rekall, a company that specializes in implanting memories which grant customers the ability to experience their greatest fantasies. Doug chooses to be a secret agent after being convinced by an employee (John Cho), but the employees at Rekall soon experience problems and believe that he is an actual spy. Federal police arrive and kill the employees, leaving Doug vulnerable for arrest; however, to his own horror he instinctively kills every single one of the policeman and escape the building. He then realizes that his own wife is an assassin working for the corrupt UFB Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), and soon after he is on the run from Lori and begins to be caught up in a conspiracy surrounding the increasingly synthetic army of the UFB, along with a Resistance movement fighting for The Colony as he begins to learn of an alternate life he didn’t even know he had…
I would like to get something straight before continuing on: I don’t hate remakes. Although I am slightly cynical about Hollywood and believe that remakes are done solely for the purpose of making money (then again, all movies are made to make a profit, right?), I also have a positive outlook on remakes. Do you know how a play is introduced on Broadway and not everyone can see it for its first debut even after a worldwide tour? That’s why high schools and other major production companies do their own productions of the same show with different sets and actors, because they often desire to introduce the same story to new audiences and with a new artistic vision to boot. For this reason, I think the same can go for film: I for one was one of those who missed out on Total Recall until a little over a week ago, so I definitely understand why the new Total Recall would be a decent enough introduction to the story for a different generation of moviegoers. I’m happy to report that anyone who hasn’t seen the original will most likely enjoy this film, because the story is decent enough and the pace is mostly consistent throughout (I personally drifted off in a couple of scenes). However, I can guarantee that people like me who have seen the original will be disappointed by this film. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Total Recall, because I was entertained and I appreciated the changes that were made to the story. I know some may be annoyed that this film is different than the original, but the way I see it, I appreciate the fact that the writers decided to interpret the story in a different way as to differentiate this version from the original, and it also makes the 2012 Total Recall more relevant to today’s society in some respects.
For instance, a trip to Mars is completely out of the question here, for the stakes are much different (although they’re still high). Also, this film also has much stronger political overtones to it. Still, the script has major problems despite the fact that the writers made some changes (whether they were necessary is debatable). First of all, the dialogue is just BAD. If you hadn’t noticed, one of the screenwriters is Kurt Wimmer, who was the writer and director of the critically-panned action film named Ultraviolet. That should be enough to tell you that the conversations in this film could have been good, but generally they are either uninteresting and/or laughable, and definitely more could have been said by the characters to fill up some plot points that the film leaves open. Secondly, a big problem with Total Recall is that anyone who has seen the original will come to expect every single twist that the story has to throw at us (even with the new plot details and all), so don’t expect any shocking reveals at all.
My last major issue with Total Recall is the fact that it takes itself too seriously. Sure, cheesiness can work against a film at times, but the writers seemed to proudly except that they had a cheesy story and made it all the more fun. However, this film does tend to take itself too seriously, and for that I think Total Recall is less enjoyable than it could have been considering that the original does exist, and it was more self aware of what it was. Even when this movie tries to be funny, it’s not. Overall, the writing of Total Recall is not the greatest. Dialogue is pretty terrible, the story itself is too predictable for those who have seen the original (regardless of the changes), and of course the over-serious nature of this film bring down its fun factor. Nonetheless, it is what it is, and despite its glaring flaws I didn’t feel that the story was unbearable… just disappointing. If this is your first exposure to this story, you may enjoy it. However, if you are like me and liked the original, you may appreciate some of the new plot details, but overall this is a disappointing retelling of a story that didn’t really need to be redone.
The acting is… (sigh)… not great. Some actors in this aren’t even good. The only performance that is really worth seeing is Total Recall is Colin Farrell, because of course one of the main things that people will be comparing between both versions of this story is the lead actor. While Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered his usual shtick in the original, he owned his role in that film. I have to admit that I haven’t really seen much of Colin Farrell at all, but even so I appreciated that he portrayed his character much differently than Arnold did. Although we see that this Doug Quaid certainly has the build of an action hero, he looks much less physically imposing than Schwarzenegger which I thought helped him appear more vulnerable and human as a character. Farrell’s performance made me think of a mix between Jason Bourne and Nathan Drake, but it works, and thus Colin Farrell is one of the best parts of Total Recall. I wish I could say the same about the rest of the cast, though. I’ve never really liked Kate Beckinsale, and although she is suitably menacing and true to the character (in addition, I appreciated that her character is slightly expanded in this film), this didn’t convince me in any way that she has talent. Her performance is rather one-note, and her line delivery wasn’t really good either. Jessica Biel is no great actress either, and it’s easy to tell that she’s in here because she has a pretty face; that somewhat works though, and she’s serviceable enough. Plus, her character Melina works much better in this film than she did in the first one, but that’s still not saying much. The real talent in this film feels wasted, because it’s easy to tell that they were phoned in and barely get as much screentime as I would like. I couldn’t care less about John Cho in this film despite the fact that I think he’s a good actor, and Bill Nighy’s role as the Resistance leader disappointed me. Bryan “I’ve been in every film this year” Cranston is one of my all-time favorite actors, but I was really let down by the fact that the writers still didn’t get give enough opportunities for Bryan Cranston to develop Cohaagen. And I don’t even want to talk about the actor who plays Doug Quaid’s best friend… geez, that guy was just flat out awful. Although Colin Farrell is a satisfying lead, the rest of the cast is disappointing.
The real saving grace of Len Wiseman’s Total Recall is what it holds in its visuals. Sure, it won’t go win any visual effects Oscars quite like the original did, but this Total Recall looks great for what it is. Environments look believable, production design is well-realized and the effects compliment the action quite nicely. I guess I also have to credit this to Len Wiseman’s direction as well, because there are some admittedly cool shots in this film. There are some shaky cam fight scenes that annoyed me, but other than that I appreciated that Wiseman decided to mix in old school and modern camera techniques to film the action in Total Recall. Most are easy to follow, and even though I said what I said about the shaky cam, the fighting definitely feels real and has some tension. There is one action scene I feel that I should complain about though: in the middle there is a car chase sequence, and it has to be one of the most boring of its kind that I’ve ever seen. Even still, the action isn’t perfect but it’s one of the better parts of Total Recall (which is a plus considering that this is an action film). Where the music is considered, Harry Gregson-Williams (who scored Prometheus) does a good job, but I can guarantee that you won’t remember any major musical pieces of Total Recall in T-minus one day, aside from maybe a pretty piano piece that Colin Farrell plays somewhere past the middle of this film. There, that’s all that I will say about the music of Total Recall, because that’s all you really need to know anyway.
On a personal level, I would probably give Total Recall a score of 2.5 or even 2 stars out of 5. The reasons why are that the dialogue is sometimes horrendous, acting is a mixed bag, and due to some other script-related flaws this is overall an inferior version of the story that was first adapted to film in 1990. If I may add, it’s also very annoying to have seen the original and then go to this one since there are no new surprises that this take on the story has in store, so predictability is also a big enjoyment killer for people who have seen the original. Nonetheless, I can’t deny that Colin Farrell delivered an enjoyable performance, what works about the story is still undeniably intact and the action is very well done with some great visual effects. So if you haven’t seen the original, I’ll say that you might appreciate Total Recall, because my mom went in blind aside from seeing the trailer and she enjoyed it. Still, I can totally recall (see what I did there?) seeing better films throughout this overall disappointing summer, so I’d say your safest bet is seeing The Dark Knight Rises for the fourth or fifth time. I know that I will be.