It’s tough to see a remake like Total Recall (2012). Some of it you know, some of it you don’t know, part of you is waiting for something to happen, and the other part is telling you to shut up and watch the movie. Or is that just me? For some movies, this wouldn’t be a problem, but the main thing this movie has to offer is a twisty tale of double-deception and awesome action. You have to enjoy the moment or you won’t have seen the movie. Don’t worry, from the very start, you’ve got enough doubt to make part one of your brain shut up.
There’s been a world war in which chemical attacks have left all but two areas completely unlivable–a section of London and “The Colony” (Australia)–connected by a intra-planetary tunnel that workers take as a daily commute to do the jobs modern Britons just don’t want. As you might expect, there’s a resistance happening, led by Matthias (Bill Nighy), against the Federation that oppresses them. It’s a second-class citizenship kind of thing. The Federation is led by the Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), a ruthless fella who rules his Deus Ex-inspired dystopia with the aid of a synthetic police force in Mass Effect armor.
In this setting, we have Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell), a unsatisfied factory worker who dreams of being a secret agent. He sees this thing called Rekal, which promises to give the consumer a memory, any memory, they’d like. Odd considering he’s got a super hot wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), but some people can’t be satisfied. He goes, but before he can get his new memory (?), the cops show up and suddenly Quaid is Hauser, a intelligence officer with nun-chuck skills and a member of the rebellion (with good-looking rebellion girlfriend Melina (Jessica Biel)). We think Hauser’s got some information that Matthias needs and we’re going to try to get them together–if the Federation doesn’t stop them first.
Basically, you’ve got your well-produced action-sci-fi movie (note the order in action-sci-fi) as far as I can tell. Trying to organize my thoughts on a movie like this is like reviewing death metal–that is, if I liked death metal, which I don’t, but if I did. So much noise and confusion in here that it’s hard to think. The standard on a movie like this, on a macro level, is whether it makes you scoff with derision. If not, it is a “pretty good movie.” If it does, then it’s “a guilty pleasure” (or society-soul-sucking waste of space, depending on your definition).
For me, the scoffing usually happens with cheesy dialogue–an example for Total Recall would be “I give good wife,” its only charm being that it sounds remotely rude, but doesn’t actually mean anything inside or outside the context. It doesn’t sink a movie by itself, but it does lower my skepticism shields enough that the non-science of the fiction destroys the experience. My brain can’t repel stupid of that magnitude. Because only Beckinsale’s character gets the crap lines and she isn’t around that often, my shields remained intact and the movie continued.
A cheesy ending or consistently unbelievable action are second equal stress points of the genre. Think of this as a rain-soaked kiss and ever-missing bullet phenomena. More accurately, the ever-missing but once bullet phenomenon. The ending of this movie is a bit mishandled, but isn’t overly cheesy–no swelling horn section. I say mishandled because it is half red herring and half the ending from Die Hard (1988)–that is, a quick “Huh?”-resolve-roll credits ending. And, of course, there are ever-missing bullets, but nobody flies through the air either in attack or exploded defeat. That’s a little out of vogue anyway. Now, it’s all about free running, or PK, and hand-to-hand martial arts. Again, my shields held and I enjoyed myself.
Both this and Total Recall (1990), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Hauser, are based on a short story by Philip Dick, called We Can Remember It for You Wholesale–I know it’s quotes, but I prefer italics–the originator of films like Blade Runner (1982), Minority Report (2002), and Paycheck (2003). The first movie was a loose adaptation and this second is an even looser one, moving the action from Mars to an oppressed on-Earth colony. Personally, I prefer the change. It keeps the action within bounds that avoids the setting overcoming the interesting plot. But that bounding went too far and failed to create their environment effectively. The Colony, a land of oppression, is dirtier than the Federation, but not too bad–it’s not Mogadishu. The scale of the world is also unclear. Thus, the stakes avoid understanding.
Other than playing a little loose with the underlying plot, the world is very well made. Its failure to look too run down also makes it more believable and lived-in. In the future, the grit is always going to have some glitter to it. The Fall, the tunnel through the Earth, is especially neat. As are the magnetic hover cars. The maze of elevators, though, seems totally made up and without basis in that world. It’s an enormous cavern with elevators zipping around according to their own pattern, up, down, and side to side, but when we come out into the world, there’s too much open space to allow for the maze we saw moments ago. I’m also suspicious of their map of London and the No-Zone. Didn’t I say it was very well made? Yeah. Because the robots, cars, and stuff are far more present than the ten-minute elevator scene.
The writing is acceptable from Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback with some quite good moments–but Beckinsale’s lines are just too bad to call this a solid effort. The story is solid from Wimmer, Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, and Jon Povill. A lot of the work was done for them with the short story and the prior film (written by the latter three story writers), but they made some good changes and heightened the mind game of the movie. It starts the whole thing off with an exposition that wipes away most of your thoughts of the first film. The ending, though was a bit of a miss.
Direction from Len Wiseman was equal in its density to the story. Wiseman isn’t nearly as preoccupied with commercialism as Paul Verhoeven to bang you over the head with it. There were a few too many poses near an explosion for my taste, but the performances are well handled. Compliments to the actors too, then, who do their jobs. Nobody winks (out of character). By coincidence, my The Recruit (2003) review, came out today, which is another example of the slightly confused Farrell performance that is so satisfying.
It’s an actioneer above the average in production and acting but around the average in everything else. Fun for some of the family.